Monday, August 8, 2011
The National Art Library
The National Art Library is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Our visit included a tour of the library itself and a view of the rare and special items of the collection. Some of the items that we were able to see (and touch!) included a facsimile of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, a fashion album from the 1900s, a handwritten manuscript of David Copperfield, and a large book of Audubon prints. It was so exciting to really experience the treasures of the collection at the National Art Library! Anyways, the library has an online catalog to view what is available before you come. You tell those at the information desk about what book you need and you get a desk number and your item is delivered to you at your desk. This is a similar practice at many other reference libraries around the U.K. Some form of identification and proof of address can allow for you to request and look at 3 items at one time and 12 items per day in the special collection. Users are also able to order books online prior to coming into the library, thus making the experience more convenient. The library itself predates the V&A museum; the library joined in 1850 when the museum was founded. The library has the largest collection of artist books—nearly 3,000! Plus, the library gets 300,000 pounds a year to spend on books in order to enhance the collection. The most common users of the library are curators, auction houses, galleries, and post-graduate art students. There are also services available that allow for photocopying of items in the library for those that want something to take home.
The library’s cataloging system was mentioned as being pretty much illogical. Books are organized sometimes by subject, sometimes by size, and sometimes by newest arrivals. This makes it very difficult for staff to locate a book for users—they have to consult maps to find the book the need.
All in all, I was blown away by the special items that we were able to peruse and touch and such a helpful and friendly staff and eager to show us around.