Tuesday, July 26, 2011

V&A National Art Library


nyone who loves art and also happens to love books would kill to see the National Art Library in the Victoria & Albert museum. Roaming the halls of the building you are confronted with some of the greatest artworks from across the globe. The library rests at the top of a grand staircase and is floor to ceiling books on one side and floor to ceiling windows on the other. The windows look out onto the central courtyard of the museum and it is all to easy to get lost in the fantasy of this place.

The Library began in 1837 and was the library of the School of Design and was housed at Somerset House. In 1850 the library was moved into the V&A and in 1890 it moved into the rooms it occupies today. The collection spans all kinds of art from across the globe including textiles, glass, ceramics, theatre, prints, drawings, architecture, and even computer art. The library even keeps trade and exhibition catalogues and gallery and auction house catalogues. These catalogues are essential when tracking the provenance of an artwork.

The National Art Library has a very different approach to the public that many other libraries such as the British Library. Rather than having to apply and needing references, anyone can come use the library. It is a reference library and not a lending library but anyone who wished to use the materials is more than welcome to. The librarians will assist patrons to make copies of what they need to substitute being able to remove the items from the library.

The classification scheme for this library can only be described as wonky. It is mostly classified by size, but some materials are classified by the date of the item's arrival into the library. The librarians have detailed and complicated maps assisting them to help find the books they need and the system seems to work well enough. But I can see a really anal US librarian's brain exploding thinking about this particular classification scheme.

What do I love most about this library? Artist books!!!! The National Art Library has the largest collection of Artist Books in Europe at just around 3,000. They have an online catalogue with pictures for patrons to see the books before they request them.

The library is primarily a reference library but it does have a special collections department which houses some materials which a reference library would not ordinarily have. For example, they have 11 of 14 Charles Dicken's manuscripts. I personally got to see the manuscript for David Copperfield. Another treasure I finally had to opportunity to see: John Audobon's Birds of America. The John Forester Collection contains more than 18,000 books. This collection features materials relating to English literature, the history of theatre, rare and illuminated manuscripts, and British history from the 17th century.

I think I found where I want to work :)

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

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