NATIONAL ART LIBRARY
(VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM)
Free and open to all, the National Art Library takes a broad view of art. It is a reference library in handsome, airy, book-lined 19th century rooms, inside the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. The collection reflects the character of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Anyone interested in the way we live should be able to find something interesting among its more than a million books and other items.
As well as great art, its stocks cover anything to do with the art, craft and design of everyday objects; including, furniture, dress, architecture, styles of house decoration, books, pottery marks, artists, sculptors, photography, auction house sale catalogues (Country House sales, Sotheby's, Christies etc). Surprisingly it also has rare literary material. It is a great place for serendipity - we searched for something relating to an early civil engineer expecting a portrait or a sale catalogue for the contents of his house but found a book of pictures beautifully illustrating one of the bridges over the Thames during its demolition prior to his rebuilding it,
The library holds short induction sessions introducing its facilities and resources. These start at 10 am on the first Tuesday of each month. To book a place telephone 020 7942 2400.
General Collection A temporary ticket, valid for three months and allowing you to use the general collection, is issued in a few minutes after you complete a registration form and provide proof of identity such as a passport or driver's licence.
Special Collections The process is a bit more involved if you want to use the special collections. Among the gems are around 1,600 letters to and from David Garrick, over a hundred letters from Charles Dickens to John Forster, and manuscripts of Dickens' novels.
Finding and ordering what you want
Some of the catalogue is on computer but much of the collection, especially older acquisitions, is still on microfiche catalogues.
The library has a leaflet clearly explaining the ordering procedure. The staff are pretty swift in delivering your order; you will probably have your books within half an hour.
Visiting the library
The library is busiest in the afternoons, and on Tuesday and Wednesdays, so it is best to visit outside these times if you can.
You will not be allowed to take large bags etc into the library - leave these in the cloakroom near the Museum's main entrance, where you can borrow a transparent bag for notebooks, pencils etc. It is best to do this when you first enter the museum because the cloakroom is a long walk back from the library.
Portable computers are allowed, though only some of the desks have a power point for them. These desks cannot be reserved in advance.
On entering the library you should pick up a numbered token which allocates you a seat. Seating is limited, and the library warns that if all the seats are taken you will be asked to wait until one is available.
There is a lift so the (first floor) library is accessible to those unable to use the stairs.
The library's website (see below ) has an "on-line catalogue" and information about the non-computerised catalogues, as well as a tempting glimpse into the wealth of the library's holdings.
There is no friends group for the library. However, there is one for the V&A Museum, which you might want to consider. There are details on the museum's website at www.vam.ac.uk.
Open: Tuesday - Saturday 10.00-17.00.
Telephone: 020 7942 2400
Address: National Art Library, Victoria and Albert
Museum, South Kensington, LONDON SW7 2RL. See map below.
See map below.
Underground: South Kensington
Bus: 14, 74, C1
Anne Bennet Alan Dove 18 September 2003