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Friday, July 15, 2011

National Art Library @ The Victoria and Albert Museum

Visiting the library inside of the V & A Museum was probably my favorite tour so far. I was unaware that such a large collection of books and a library open to the public existed in this museum. Opened before the museum, the library was originally part of the School of Design, first belonging to the Sommerset House and then in 1884 moved to its current location. It is still one of the few functioning victorian librarians left. An important fact of the National Art Library is that it is not a lending library. Books can be accessed on used on in the two reading rooms, but they cannot be taken out. Because of this, the library provides its users with multiple copy machines, both color and black and white, and scanners to email photos to themselves or save the pictures onto USB drives.

Requests are submitted to a librarian as a desk and from there, books are retrieved from the stacks every half past the hour. So, if a patron arrives at the library at 10:35, they will have to wait until 11:30 to get the book they requested. The library has a huge collection of periodicals and catalogs; many of which are used by auction houses such as Sotheby's. The collection also contains a large amount of manuscripts, many Medieval from the 15th century. The collection also contains 11 Dicken's manuscripts.

The annual budget for the acquisition of new items is £300,000 per year. New items are always being purchased and added to the collection. Roughly 46 employees work in the library, restacking books, cataloging new ones, and helping costumers. The most unbelievable thing to me about this library is that the books on the shelves are not in any real order; they are placed on the shelf by size, in a semi-alphabetical order. Once I heard this I was not surprised it took an hour to find patron's books!

Our class was also given the opportunity to look at some of the treasures of the National Art Library. We were able to see an original Charles Dickens manuscript for David Copperfield, which was donated to the library by John Forester. The library also has a large collection of artist books; even though they do not official collect them, they have a significant amount in their possession.

I really enjoyed the fact that anyone can get a library card for the National Art Library. Even though we are not residents of the UK, my fellow classmates and myself were allowed to use and access the materials held in this library. I really enjoyed this tour, and seeing a sort of behind the scenes look at how this library works and functions.

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