This afternoon we visited the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Our hostesses were Ms. Sally Williams and Ms. Francis Willis.
The National Art Library (NAL) was established in 1837 and predates the Museum. This is a research and closed access library, not a lending library. It was originally housed at Somerset House and was the official library for the Government School of Design. The NAL is one of the top four art libraries in the world along with the INHA (Institut national d’histoire de l’art ,Paris), the Getty (California) and the libraries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). The NAL's strength lies in the range and depth of the collection of items pertaining to fine and decorative arts. The library serves three purposes: it is Britain’s leading art and design public reference library, it is the library of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and a Research Library for V&A staff, and it is the V&A’s Curatorial department for the national collection of the art of the book. Books for this collection are seen not only as art but also as designed objects.
Over 30,000 researchers visit the NAL yearly. As a closed access library, a reader comes in and picks a seat from the board. They keep that seat for the duration of the day. They may browse items from the general collection in the Centre and Reading Rooms. If they need items from the rest of the collection they must request them (up to 8) and the staff retrieves them from the closed stacks. In the stacks, they shelve books by size using their own in-house classification system in order to maximize use of space. The ordering system is electronic as the catalog is all online. As a research library, they provide in-house access to databases such as JSTOR and ArtSource.
The current location of the library was finished in 1884 and was designed to house the library. One design accommodation was that there were electric lights installed in lieu of gas. The Reading Room has been maintained to reflect what it looked like during that time. Most of the collection is still on site with the exception of the Children's Collection including the Beatrix Potter collection that is housed offsite near Olympia (AAD). Some parts of the collection were acquired as donations and are closed collections that are not added to. Preservation is stressed so as to minimize the need for conservation. They even have facsimiles of items in order to protect the originals but still allow access. When items are lent out for exhibition and displays then conservation is paramount and the borrowing entity takes on the responsibility for the cost. Special displays are created for such exhibitions including one of a kind stands, melamex coverings, and book sofas all designed to minimize the stress placed on these items.
Twice a year they boost the collection from the 'high street' in order to keep up with print-based design changes. They have an extensive collection of periodicals. Magazines and journals are crucial in providing a topical/contemporary view of design that books do not.
We were very lucky to be given a close-up look at some of the items from their special collections:
[Movie I was reminded of: The Young Victoria
Book added to my booklist: We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals
by Gillian Gill]
by Gillian Gill]
Before our tour of the NAL we had some time to visit the V&A and explore some of the exhibits. I had lunch in the beautiful lunchroom with Stacey, Kim, and Courtney.
Afterwards, Stacie, Kim, and I walked through Hyde Park. I was exhausted, but the great company and idyllic venue perked me up.
[Movie: Sense and Sensibility
Book: The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn]