This afternoon our class outing was to the National Art Library housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. The library is one of the largest art libraries in Europe holding over a million items. The library is reference only and the collection is dedicated to art, craft and design including such things as books, furniture, architecture, dress and artists' information. The library also holds one of the largest book art collections as well as a collection of auction house catalogs. Although it is reference only, it is open to the public and does issue reader tickets for anyone wanting to use the general collection. Certain special collection use such as letters from Charles Dickens to John Forster is allowed but the process is a bit more involved. A reader must request an item because most of the collection except for a few reference items are "closed access". A form is available to make request which is then presented to staff for retrieval. All requests go through the "marshaling area" for staff to sort and retrieve requested items.
What impressed me most
I found the collection to be unique in the variety of items and I really liked the book art collection. Book art focuses on the book as an object of art, so not only do the words tell a story but the design or shape of the book itself adds meaning. Our hosts provided a selection of items for us to look at and touch. All of the books were so creative. Apparently, the director or curator in the 1980's had a thing for this type of collection so the library made an assertive effort to acquire such items. At present, however the library is no longer collecting items due to budget constraints and new leadership, but it does have around 5,000 items making it one of the largest collections of book art. I was really fascinated with the whole topic, so much so that I'm thinking of writing my short paper topic on it. Too bad I didn't discover it earlier in the program but I did get some nice pictures of the some of the books in the collection.