Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I hART books

Track 7/10: David Bowie: "Andy Warhol"

Chihuly Chandelier
Despite our late night (2:30am!) return from Stratford we had a morning appointment to tour the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A is visually stunning itself in terms of the space and the scale of this structure that is simply bursting with art and its history. The major exhibit on this summer is "David Bowie is," so clearly the V&A is very cool.

The National Art Library is one of the top art libraries in the world. The strengths of the collection are in the range and depth of materials concerning fine and decorative arts and art and design. In fact, with over one million items it has the most extensive collection on this subject matter in the world. Being that it is a library concerning art, books are collected both for their contents and for their aesthetic value. There are thirty thousand visitors to the library each year, and as it is closed access, patrons order books in advance. Everything is requested via an online system. When a request comes in it is to be retrieved within 20-40 minutes and is then on reserve for 3 days and is issued to the patron through a counter clerk.
The library moved into the V&A in 1857, and opened to the public in 1858. In 1884 the library was the first part of the building to be designed with electricity rather than gas. While they make every effort to care for the collection to proper preservation standards, there are many challenges to residing in a Victorian building. The temperature is generally rather warm, and it certainly was during our tour. Air conditioning is expensive and there are restrictions due to the fact it is a historic structure. They stick to the rule of heat and humidity not fluctuating more than 5%, but it really seems too warm for a collection of that nature. Dust is problematic, and pest traps are constantly set as well. For items in need of special care there is limited professional attention available as there is not anyone with conservation experience on staff, and they only budget for 30 hours of conservation work a year! This is generally allocated to only special items previous to being displayed.
Book of Hours
The collection of the National Art Library includes eleven thousand periodicals, and they subscribe to so many that they receive 50-100 issues a week. Some of these are art magazines, but others are collected simply for their graphics such as Tatler. Due to the specific nature of the collection and space restrictions they use an in-house classification system, and everything is shelved by size. All of the library's collections are on-site with the exception of the children's books which are housed at the Blythe House Archive. There is a huge backlog of items awaiting cataloging and available shelf space and they are behind in digitization as well.
da Vinci Codex Facsimile
David Copperfield Manuscript


        We were fortunate enough to see a few special items in the collection such as the three in the photographs I've included here: a book of hours from Paris ~1400 (I think this was the oldest library item I handled during the trip), an exact facsimile of a da Vinci codex featuring his drawings, ideas and examples of mirror writing from 1493 (this is important as this facsimile was completed during his lifetime) and an original Dickens manuscript of David Copperfield (in his own hand!).

A group of us followed our artsy morning with a trip to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for lunch. We sat in the basement of the pub, rebuilt in 1667 and I had a tasty fish pie. I walked back to the dorm after lunch and stopped in a few shops, and noticed an awesome squirrel sign hanging on a building that had no corresponding business. I did a little research and found out it was quite a well-known sign representing Goslings Bank which was around since 1743 but was long ago acquired by Barclay's. I personally think that Barclay's should have adopted this as their logo.

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