The Welsh Books Council was established on 6 November 1961, and in 2011 it celebrated 50 years of service to the books industry and making a significant contribution to the development of the publishing industry in Wales.
The Books Council was established in response to the pioneering work of Book Societies throughout Wales, and the unstinting commitment of Alun R. Edwards, Chief Librarian of Cardiganshire at the time, who worked tirelessly for many years in order to realise the dream. He noted the occasion in his diary with these words: 'A historic, important day . . . This is the beginning of a new era for our authors.'
In 1965, Alun Creunant Davies was appointed as its first Director, and the Council has adhered to the original vision of working in partnership with publishers, booksellers and librarians to widen the choice of books available and to ensure that the output is of the highest possible standard.
'It is important for us to remember the pioneering work achieved in the early days,' said Professor M. Wynn Thomas, the current Chair of the Council. 'The provision at the time was woefully inadequate, and there were hardly any books for children and young people. We can take great pride in all that has been achieved through the efforts of a great many individuals, through co-operation between various partners for the benefit of the sector as a whole, and through the valuable support of central government. All this was achieved, of course, in order to produce books that would appeal to a wide range of readers.'
Early in its history the Books Council established a Distribution Centre at Aberystwyth, and for the first time ever books could be distributed across the whole of Wales. With the support of the Arts Council of Wales, practical help was given to publishers by providing specialist services in editing and design. Later, the responsibility for administering publishing grants for Welsh-language books was transferred to the Books Council, thereby ensuring a new era for publishing in Wales.
Supporting children’s books has been a priority for the Books Council since the early days, including allocating grants for books for children and teenagers. The work of promoting books for children continues through an extensive programme of activities including book clubs for primary and secondary schools, book competitions and the annual Tir na n-Og Awards, the main awards for children’s literature in Wales in both Welsh and English.
'Providing a service to the publishing industry in Wales is still the Council’s main priority,' said Elwyn Jones, the Chief Executive. 'We would like to think that the founders would be proud of all that has been achieved over the years and that they would welcome the excellent range of books currently available in both languages.'
Gwerfyl Pierce Jones was Director of the Books Council for over two decades, in a period that saw a number of significant developments, including ensuring a stable financial future for the Council when the Government accepted responsibility for financing the organisation. In the past, the Books Council had been financed by the local authorities, the Arts Council of Wales, the Welsh Office and the Welsh Language Board.
Technological developments have had a far-reaching effect on the Council’s means of providing a service to readers – developments which include the information website www.gwales.com which now sells books from Wales across the globe. Different versions of this website were later developed to meet the needs of booksellers and libraries.
In 2003, another significant development was the transfer of responsibility for administering publishing grants in respect of English-language books from Wales from the Arts Council of Wales to the Books Council, thus making the Books Council responsible for the strategic development of the publishing industry in Wales in both English and Welsh.
'The Books Council has witnessed many other developments over the years,' added Elwyn Jones, 'including ensuring funding to support editorial and marketing posts in the publishing houses, providing a comprehensive training programme to develop skills within the industry, and developing ambitious promotional schemes to publicise the books available. Currently, the Books Council is also responsible for a programme of activities to promote reading, including the annual World Book Day celebrations.'
'I would like to think that the true value of these developments can be seen in the high-quality books published every year, and the wide range of titles now available to reflect the reading interests of Welsh readers.'
With the financial support of the Welsh Government, the Books Council is continuing its work of supporting and developing the publishing industry and investing in the development of e-books to encourage a wide selection of books from Wales on digital platforms.
Huw Lewis, the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, said: 'Congratulations to the Welsh Books Council on reaching this important milestone. Over the past 50 years, it has been instrumental in developing the publishing industry in Wales and extending the range of books available through English and Welsh to both children and adults.'
Elwyn Jones added: 'The readers’ needs are constantly changing, and it is the Council’s role to work with our partners in order to ensure that we are able to respond to the demand for popular reading material.'
The Council’s celebrations will include a programme of events, beginning with the Annual Meeting at the beginning of December, and in 2012 they will include the World Book Day celebrations and a special meeting of the Friends of the Books Council. In addition, a volume on the history of the Welsh Books Council and its contribution to Welsh culture has been commissioned; it will be edited by Professor M. Wynn Thomas and sponsored by the family of the late Alun Creunant Davies.