Saturday, 3 August 2013

Class 6: National Art Library at the V&A (10/07/2013)

Behind the Scenes
Seeing the National Art Library at the V&A
Class today was held at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Built over 150 years ago, the V&A was built to be used as a practical library. Over time, the exhibitions housed here garnered more public attention and interest and a new building (this building) moved to a new location to meet the needs of the public. In 1858, the doors to the V&A were open to the public and now, the museum sees over 30,000 visitors each year. Our group was privileged enough to not only walk around the museum a bit, but to also get a behind the scenes  tour at the National Art Library ( ) from Sally Williams. 

With over a million items in its collection, the National Art Library is known for its strong and extensive range of materials. Access is closed, but users can get a reading card and request, on-line, to see materials. Services are available to take photographs, scan documents and photocopy books for readers. The National Art Library does use databases, but they are only available on site. The staff is trying to make the catalogue available to users at home, but it just hasn’t been done yet. 

Ms. Williams took us to the stacks to see the 11,000 periodicals and thousands of books housed at the library. We learned how books were shelved by size, saw how periodicals were bound together in volumes and get an overall sense of what working for this library was like. Due to the importance of their materials, we learned about how close their relationship is with book conservation is and all about their preservation efforts. 

In order to preserve materials, the library does encourage readers to use electronic periodicals and fact sheets, that they provide, to limit handling materials or requests for the wrong items. What’s interesting though is despite these attitudes, the library is only just beginning to digitize its collection. There are about 200 hundred books available on Google Books, but there really isn’t enough resources to speed the process up. 

Original Picasso artwork 
David Coperfield
Written in Charles Dickens's own hand
After learning about the library’s collection, Ms. Williams took us to see some amazing books. Spread out on a table was a facsimile of DaVinci’s code book, pages of David Coperfield written in Charles Dickens's own hand, Picasso artwork and a rare first edition book binding of The Mystery of Edwin Drood from 1972. These items were just among the thousands of other rare items that can be found in this library. Poems hand written by Keats, more Dickens’s manuscripts, the world’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter material, Shakespeare folios and the original drawings of E.H. Shepard, the illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, are just a few names and examples of what else can be found in the special collections of this magnificent library. It is such a great place and there is nothing I wouldn’t give to have a week to spend just looking at some of these things, it would be amazing. 

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