Tower of London

Tower of London

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ACADEMIC-The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Admittedly, my entire pitiful sense of fashion knowledge comes from Stacy and Clinton of TLC’s What Not to Wear. No, I am not proud of this. But I do admit it freely in print because the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum is an experience no one should miss when visiting London. Fashionista or no, the V&A and the National Art Library will knock your socks off.

The museum is a treat and the current Heaven and Hell featured exhibit will stay with you long after you leave the museum. Their use of size and the senses again reminded me that exhibits can be so much more than just the table or floor space they encompass. And if you have never had the chance to experience a Chihuly blown glass sculpture then do yourself a favor and visit Even better, if there is a gallery near you that has one on exhibit, run out to see it!

The National Art Library gave me one of the best schoolings in how to run a library I have ever received. They very much run with a public library mindset while still maintaining a special library collection. Even though there are only two public areas, customer service is their main priority and making the books accessible is next in line. Even their budget concerns mimicked those we face in U.S. public libraries.

Our tour guide, Robin Crawford, was amazing. He patiently answered all of our many questions and was refreshingly honest with us when we asked about the challenges the library faces. He did not hold any punches and even though some of the harsh realities of what is happening in libraries today is hard to hear, it is even better to know that there are still librarians fighting for our existence and the good of our collections.

It was not all doom and gloom though. One thing I find hilarious about London’s specialized libraries is that they all use a system of their own when it comes to cataloging because “They would all have the same number if we used Dewey”. Granted, this would only be funny to a librarian, but this just tickles me pink! And then there were the surprises in the collection.

This library owns most of Charles Dickens’ original manuscripts-YAY! We were even able to see one with editorial notes in his own handwriting! As a Dickens fan, this was the highlight of my day and maybe even my trip. Other unexpected literary treasures included a poem in Keats’ own handwriting. And yeah, we were able to see another one of Shakespeare’s first folios. So how’s that for the trip of a lifetime? I saw so many of Shakespeare’s first folios that it was not even a big deal anymore! Did you see that I saw the Dickens’ manuscripts too?!

So, my fashion sense did not improve because of my visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Art Library, but my perspective on fashion and textiles certainly did. I don’t think that will earn me any points with Stacy and Clinton, but I am a better librarian for it. Oh well, I guess you can take a girl out, but that doesn’t mean you can dress her up!

For more information on the National Art Library, click here.

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