Tuesday, 15 July 2008

National Art Library: 15 July 2008

We opened with a pleasant and succinct tour of the Library. The National Art Library is housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum and actually pre-dates the Museum. The Library was established in 1837 when it was housed at the Somerset House just across Waterloo Bridge from Stamford Street. The Library then moved into the Museum building in 1899.

It currently has two reading rooms open to the public with a third which is undergoing construction for a 20th century exhibit. Each reading room has a gallery which like the majority of the books is staff accessible only. The Library runs much on the same circulation system as it did in the late 1800s where items are closed access and must be requested. The collections are undeniably impressive as we soon found out.

After the tour, we were greeted by Jennie Farmer, Assistant Librarian. She has worked for the Library for close to five years and has been in her current position for the past year and a half. Her position is undoubtedly one I covet! She gave us a tasting of the myriad of items the Library contains. She also gave us a brief idea of the preservation processes they follow. Unfortunately, conservation and restoration do not occur often due to the size of the collection and budgetary issues. Instead they do the best they can to preserve. Some of their preservation techniques include the use of a phase box which is essentially a cardboard box fitted to encase the book, dust jackets, envelopes or, in the past, the use of microfiche.

Of the items we were able to view and handle, my jaw absolutely dropped at the sight of Jonathan Swift's own annotated copy of Gulliver's Travels. And lying right beside it was Charles Dickens' corrected proof of David Copperfield. As I said, these items were only a taste of the vast collection housed at the National Art Library. And I am happy to know that most of the resources are accessible to all scholars and researchers.

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