Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The National Art Library

Photo from the National Art Library website.
The National Art Library is nestled in the popular Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. The beautiful reading and computer spaces at the entry are almost entirely original to the 1857 library installation.

The library works closely with the museum to support the work of staff members, especially of curators. Though readers normally consist of academics and students, library services are open to anyone with a name and address. Numerous reference books are available in the reading rooms as well as computer access and wifi.

Sally Williams, librarian, was our tour guide. She explained that with over 1,000,000 books, the library is one of the top three reference libraries in the world, on par with the Getty Museum. The libraries massive periodical collection contains 11,000 titles, 2,000 of which are current.

Many of the library's holdings are old and vaulable, even on the open shelf. The staff make an effort to educate readers of the proper handling of books. Many books in poor condition are transfered to book boxes.

Exhibit from the National Art Library -
Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950
Readers have access to the digital catalog, advanced order, e-resource journals, periodicals, and electric versions of printed books which are linked from the electronic record for the printed material. Print requests can take up to an hour, as the librarians must consult the guides and maps, and travel a great distance to get to the materials.

The library also serves as the curatorial department for the design of the book, so some portion of the books in the collection are collected for their value as an object of book design. Some of these books are specifically designed as art, while others are appreciated as such. Two hundred and fifty of the libraries book arts collection are available to view on their website.

Title page of original Bleak House manuscript.
Our group was given a glimpse at, and even allowed to handle, some of the special collections material. Francis Willis showed us a selection which included an original copy of Dicken's Bleak House manuscript. She explained how it was previously bound, and why this arrangement was better. She showed our group two examples of the book art collection and discussed how special arrangements were necessary for some of the works.

Overall, the National Art Library is a magical place and open to the public, as any national library in Britian. The library holds exhibitions every six months which helps to raise its profile. I think a visit to this library is necessary for anyone interested in the visual arts. It is a special collection. Additionally, there are resources and reading guides for scholars posted on the library's website.

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