At the Victoria and Albert Library I was able to learn about the services and history of the library as well as the archives and special collections that they currently house. The library’s collection predates the museum and was established in 1837 prior to moving to its current location. It contains items such as original writings, prints, and special bindings. With only 43% of their collections in English and 62% of their exhibition catalogs being from outside of Britain, the library has an impressive selection of international books. For example, I was able to see an Italian book from the 1700’s on the art of napkin folding. The collections also contain a large amount of fashion related prints such as 1950’s London store catalogs and French fashion illustrations.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Victoria and Albert Library is its collection of contemporary book art. As someone with a background in art, the crossover between art and books has always been of interest. the V&A Library has the largest contemporary book art collection in the UK. One of the book art examples I was able to see was a geometric pop up book.
The vast amount of material that the library houses (over 2 million objects) makes the V&A Library one of the top four libraries in the world for the arts. Each week, they obtain 50-100 new periodicals and most of their collection is stored in house. They aim to serve as a reference for Art + Design, to be a research library for the museum and curatorial department, and to collect items, books on art, and books as art.
The library has a closed collection, which means that in order to view their materials, you need to request it. With this in mind, one might expect the library itself to appear empty – however, this is far from true. Upon entry into the first room of the library, the library goer steps foot through large wooden double doors into a high ceiling rectangular room with arched windows on the right, and floor to ceiling books on the main level as well as the gallery level. Every inch of the space has either functional use or decorative elements that aid in the library’s 19th century aura. A muted celadon green paint contrasts with the original plaster that boarders the gallery balconies as well as parts of the ceiling. Although areas of the paint are peeling, the warm, original mahogany book shelves distract any viewer from these minor imperfections. A brown runner divides the room in two sections – one side with large wooden tables and leather inlays and the other side an arched service desk.Although not original to the library, the chandler lights dangle from above. Looking up, one will see a ceiling of glass tiles that lets in natural light. There are two rooms composed in this fashion – appearing almost identical and connected through a second set of wooden double doors. The final and third space keeps the symmetrical flow from the first two rooms, but instead of having books, the main level has been converted into a gallery space. The upstairs level however, maintains the walls of books – reminding users of the expansiveness of the library.