Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #13 The Victoria & Albert Museum

We bypassed the floors of artwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum to get a personal tour of the National Art Library housed within the museum. It’s a reference library classified by the Dewey Decimal System that holds materials based on content and appearance. My group started out doing a tour about the basic set-up and operation of the library.

The library provides a digital camera and copy machine for patrons to make records, and instead of using RFID technology – which they deem too costly and burdensome – they require everyone to carry see-through bags. Obviously that saves a lot of money, but seeing as how their stacks are bulging and they are out of space I would think that the technology might be worth it for inventory purposes. As far as what’s in their collection, our guide mentioned Charles Darwin manuscripts, Victoria & Albert publications (3 copies of each), Masters and PhD theses from RCA students, and over 8,000 publications – 2,500 current ones – that include international and Victorian works.

Something our guide said stood out to me; she said that there is a constant battle with the gallery people who want the library removed – for more gallery space – because they think the library is “taking up space” and that they aren’t a relevant part of the museum. This goes back to how you define the library. Throughout our course we had discussions about how libraries are not only book holders, but holders of cultural deposits. It seems awfully ballsy to deny the link between the library and the gallery; many display items come from library collections, along with the history on them. For some reason that got under my skin, but I digress …

The second part of the tour was spent looking at books that were valuable not for their content but for their binding. There were so many unique items to look at. “Aunt Sallie’s Lament” was a story about a quilt maker explaining how her painful history was woven into her quilts. The book came out of the jacket and at the end you had a beautiful quilt design made from different pages of the book. Another one I liked was “Drawings In a Nutshell,” which was a bag of real nuts and a shelled out walnut that contained a pull out sheet showing pictures and names of different nuts. For people who aren’t great readers or too many words bore them, these types of books provide a way for them to connect with the message in a way they might not have been able to in a normal book format. I enjoyed seeing all the different styles and it has encouraged me to think outside the box on what I consider a quality book.