As a rule, libraries do not encourage people to write on books. With the passage of time, however, marginalia and other personal annotations become more interesting and can sometimes shed light on past events.
In Cardiff University’s Salisbury Library there are three copies of “The Bible in Wales”, a publication brought out in a limited edition of six hundred copies by the Libraries Committee of Cardiff Corporation in 1906 in connection with its successful, and thoroughly researched, exhibition of Bibles. No author’s name appears on the title page, but in the preface John Ballinger, then the chief librarian at Cardiff and subsequently first librarian of the National Library of Wales, claims responsibility, acknowledging the help of various assistants including James Ifano Jones who, he says, “collated and arranged” the “materials” for the bibliography. That, at least, is what the printed version of the book says! We recently noticed that one of our copies is heavily annotated in ink by its previous owner, Ifano Jones himself:
It is not too difficult to read between the lines here. Sir John Ballinger, as he later became, had worked his way up from becoming a library assistant in the Cardiff Public Library at 15, librarian of Doncaster at 20 and returning to Cardiff in 1884 as chief librarian at the age of 24 (library careers were rather different then!) He was not a Welsh speaker, but he generally gets the credit for building up an impressive Welsh library in Cardiff (as well as the beginning of the rare books collection now at the University). A famous catalogue of the Welsh collection was published in 1898, and subsequent works including this volume in 1906 all must have helped his cause once the decision had been made to found a National Library of Wales. Cardiff, of course, originally expected that the National Library would be there, and John Ballinger would surely have been expected to be appointed. The decision to put the National Library in Aberystwyth instead did not change the situation: Ballinger was duly appointed, and took up his post in 1909.
It has long been thought that Ifano Jones felt that he did not receive due recognition for his work. His own background was in printing, and he had a thorough knowledge of the history of the Welsh printing industry. Unlike Ballinger, he was a Welsh speaker, deeply involved in Welsh cultural life. He was appointed as an assistant in the public library, with special responsibility for the Welsh collections: possibly he felt that Ballinger took the credit for much of what he had done. Ifano Jones was not appointed National Librarian, nor did he become chief librarian at Cardiff when Ballinger left for Aberystwyth, but he did succeed in being known as “The Welsh Librarian, Cardiff”, which is how he appears on the title-page of his “History of printing and printers in Wales …” (1925), still a standard work.
Interestingly, as well as exacting posthumous revenge on Ballinger by leaving us his thoughts in ink, Jones has attached a clipping about himself from The Western Mail, dated 20 January 1909. The newspaper story gives his work at Cardiff the prominence which he clearly felt was his due, and the date is significant, as this was the very month in which John Ballinger took up his appointment as National Librarian. One cannot help wondering whether Ifano Jones himself was the source of the newspaper story.