Today was another afternoon trip – and a good thing too, considering how late we got back last night. I woke up early to turn in my money for the two nights of the mini-break that I’ll be back in the dorm, went back to sleep for a while, and then got myself bundled up for another wet, cold day. I took the Tube a couple stops toward Southwark and braved some damp alleyways looking for the London Fire Brigade Museum Shop. Finally, success! I hope the brother likes his gifts, after all that, haha. At one pm, the class met and made our way over to the V&A – the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Another lovely museum full of lots of interesting things, art from all over the world, an exhibit on the history of fashion, stained glass, sculptures… possibly my favorite part was the huge Dale Chihuly chandelier piece hanging in the lobby. I don’t really care much for owning art, as a general rule, but I would feel immensely lucky if I am ever able to own a Chihuly piece in my life. Gorgeous stuff – I saw an exhibit of his work at Phoenix Art Museum maybe six years ago, and he has yet to be replaced as my favorite artist. We went out into their gorgeous garden/fountain area… if it hadn’t been quite so windy and cold, it would have been a fantastic place to eat lunch and put your feet in the water. Amazing flowers, like so many places in England seem to have.
But, I digress. We wandered about the museum a bit before our tour of the National Art Library was to commence. I think I’m becoming a little numbed to museums, which I am almost ashamed to admit… I’m seeing so many beautiful, rare, priceless things every single day, and it almost has begun to blur together. We are going to Oxford tomorrow, and then Scotland – and I think the change of scenery is coming just in time. Today was actually our last scheduled tour/visit in the city of London for the program. While the places we went were all very interesting in their varied manners, I did find myself disappointed at the lack of representation of Teen/YA Services on the docket. We only visited two public libraries, up against the multitude of museums and archives – the Barbican was beautiful and very well appointed, but the community it serves is essentially commuters, adults and their small children. The London Library, while technically a publicly accessible library, has fees (as necessary and well-earned as they may be) that would be dissuasive and prohibitive for the casual young adult user. I understand that teenagers are a difficult group to work with in the best of environments, but it would have been nice to see an example of a library with any sort of programming geared toward that age group, or a collection larger than two shelves.
The National Art Library was another very impressive architectural space – I think my favorite part of this visit was our time with the Special Collections librarian. She showed us a great many examples of the types of books they have there, including a first folio of Shakespeare, a couple of “book objects” (essentially artistic takes on the form itself), a corrected proof from Dickens with his actual pen marks, luxurious Islamic book bindings, a book of artistic prints from the 1910s showing the beginnings of a new, flowing take on women’s fashion. We were permitted to take pictures and carefully handle priceless documents – there are only 200 first folios in the world, and it’s worth a shiver to know that I’ve turned the pages of one of them.
The remainder of the visit covered a great deal of the same issues that seem to plague most of the libraries that we’ve visited thus far – they are working toward becoming more electronically based, but given the depth of their collections, it can be difficult to really make that move. The bulk of their collection is related in some way to art or art history, books that come in many unusual sizes and types; in light of the ubiquitous space issues libraries of this type seems to face, their cataloging schema is based much more on the physical size rather than content or subject. As with the British Library, readers must request materials to be brought to them by librarians, but the access requirements are much less stringent for most of the collection. Only the “specials” (as the librarian called them) really require any kind of interview process or vetting for purpose before being granted access. The items for which such a process is required would include rare and precious items like the ones we were shown, the Dickens manuscripts and the Leonardo DaVinci codices, etc.
It seems that this library, like most others, suffered from a certain measure of having too much to do in too little time with too little money. They focus on preservation of materials, rather than conservation (except with the really rare books), since they just don’t have the resources to do more. There are negligible environmental controls in the stacks, so librarians essentially just manage issues as they arise: flooding, temperature fluctuations, whatever it may be. I have been very impressed with so many of these staffs, doing so much with so little in the way of budget support for such huge collections.
After the V&A, we grabbed lunch and then caught the Tube home. The weather continues to be delightful – truly “London-esque” in the Hollywood sense. It never seems to be truly cold, just refreshingly crisp, with occasional light sprinkles. In a word, perfect.
Tomorrow is Oxford, Saturday is laundry and packing, then Sunday we are off to Scotland! Goodnight, friends and family, I miss you.