James' Jaunts
National Art Library
V & A Museum

We were split into two groups for our tour of the National Art Library. One group viewed the 'treasures' while the other toured the building. The group I was with viewed the library treasures first. Here is a list of some of the items:

    *14th century French illuminated manuscript
    *Manuscript of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield
*Facsimile of Leonardo da Vinci's I codici Forster
*James Audobon's sketches of North American birds (artist's book)

The library collects letters, books, periodicals, trade magazines, artists' books, and fashion magazine and portfolios. Most of their collection came from the materials collected for the 1851 Great Exhibition, which was also the start of the museum. They have a closed collection, the John Foster collection, which contains 18,000 books. The library has acquired around 400 of James Audobon's prints. They have online databases, microfilm materials, and around 8000 periodicals, 2000 of which are current.

They are a non-lending library, but all items in the collection are accessible to patrons. Items kept in safes require appointments and academic justification; facsimiles of valuable items are provided to patrons instead of the original, but the facsimiles are rendered as close to the original as possible. Access to materials are limited to twelve items a day, three at a time; it is therefore better to request materials in advance. The library does lend items out to other institutions for exhibitions, but they require the other institutions to pay for it to be made ready to travel.

The amazing thing about this opportunity was not just seeing these items but actually being able to handle them. The archivist invited all of us to turn the pages, inspect the binding, etc. Items like these are usually locked away under glass. You can tell that they are not careless with the items, however, as some might accuse. They preserve and display the materials as other special collection libraries do; they ensure the materials are handled carefully. But they also ensure their materials are accessible, and, more importantly, used.

After viewing some of the collection, our group then toured the library. The library was opened in 1837, and actually predates the museum. It was originally part of the School of Design, but outgrew space and was moved twice, until moving into its current premises in 1884. The two public rooms are the reading room and the main lobby, which holds the general collection. They have open-access reference, but the remainder of the collection is closed access and the staff retrieve requested items. The library also photographs books, free of charge, and patrons can either upload to a USB drive or the staff email the files as a PDF.

The National Art Library is open to everyone, and readers can join online. The majority of the readers are curators, post-graduate and graduate students, auction houses, and galleries.


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    London Away:
    British Studies
    Summer 2011


    I am a professional student.  I have a formal education--both a Bachelor and Master's degree in English, and I am working on a Master's in Library and Information Sciences.  But I believe that life experience is the greatest teacher anyone can have.  So I am hitting the road to have fun and to learn--and no, that's not mutally exclusive!--and live life to the fullest.



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