Tuesday, July 31, 2007 Victoria and Albert Museum: National Art Library

Jen and Jenna were our guides at the National Art Library. They showed us some special items in the collection as well as giving us a tour of the stacks area. The art library collects everything from pieces of art to books that are themselves pieces of art or examples of design principles. The book Five Empty Bookcases was just one of the examples of paper engineering that we saw. Drawings in a Nutshell was actually a tiny accordion-fold book whose covers were actual nutshells. Aunt Sally's Lament was another example of paper engineering which started out as quilt designs and ended as a chair.

On the tour, we learned a new term: invigilation. We found that the term describes the supervision of readers when requested items from the collection are brought out for viewing. We got to walk through an invigilation area as we started our tour.

We were also reminded that the art library prefers to do preservation rather than conservation and that there is a preservation and conservation department within the library. If an item is going out on loan to another facility, it is made to look its best before being sent (under security of course). Storage is customized based on the type of item being stored. Phase boxes are custom made for the books that they contain. Dust jackets with ties are used to protect some books, and special red boxes are used to store items that need to be inside an acid free envelope. Special arrangements are made to assure that items which need to lie flat are stored that way.

As with many of the libraries and archives that we have visited, items are arranged by size, shape and acquisition date. Staff members fill reader requests and bring items to the desk where readers pick them up. One thing that I liked about the inquiry or reference desk was that patrons who are physically in front of the desk are dealt with before people who are calling on the phone. I have never understood why it is acceptable for some institutions to make patrons who have waited in line wait even longer when their request is interrupted by a phone caller who is then taken care of first! The books that are stored in the reference section are arranged in Dewey Decimal order and patrons may actually go and pick those off the shelf if they want to use them. Finally, the collection is enlarged in three ways, with purchases, gifts, or exchanges.

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