National Art Library
The National Art Library (NAL) is a major reference library, situated in Kensington, West London. It is freely accessible to the public Tuesday-–Saturday, and specialises in material about the fine and decorative arts of many countries and periods. It also contains substantial sources for information about artists. In the past, the NAL operated a restrictive admissions policy and was known as a library of last resort but that has since changed, as nowadays everyone is welcome to use the library and its collections.
The NAL is located on the first floor of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), a foremost museum of decorative arts. It overlooks the John Madejski Garden. The library's subject coverage includes those central to the work of the V&A and its collections, including: prints, drawings and paintings; furniture and woodwork; textiles, dress and fashion; ceramics and glass; metalwork; sculpture; and art and design of the Far East, India and South East Asia. The library also functions as the V&A's curatorial department for the art, craft and design of the book which means that some books are collected as examples of book art, rather than as reference works.
Access to the collections
Visitors are allowed to walk into the reading rooms simply to look around the highly acclaimed Grade II listed interior. Visitors wishing to just have a look are asked to sign the Visitors’ Book at the entrance; those wanting to actually use the library material need to complete a registration form (and show some personal identification) to obtain a reader's ticket on their first visit. There is no charge for this.
The NAL is a reference library and does not lend material so readers need to use the collections in one of the public reading rooms. The library is known as a closed access library which means that most material (apart from the reference books on open shelves) has to be requested via staff at the counter. The library's catalogue is available on the web so that material can be requested in advance of a visit.
Highlights of the collections
The main strength of the NAL lies in the range and depth of its documentary material on the fine and decorative arts but it also has significant holdings of material in a particular genre as well as important historic collections, deemed 'special' either because of their provenance or their rarity, including:
- Artists' books
- Auction sale catalogues
- Children's books
- Documentary manuscripts
- Early printed books
- Exhibition catalogues
- Fine bindings
- Illuminated manuscripts
- Trade literature
- Special collections, such as the Dyce and Forster collections
Services to readers
Services to users include: self-service photocopying facilities; a bookable digital camera for use with material unsuitable for photocopying; a bookable camera stand for use with readers' own cameras; computer print outs and a microform reader/printer. In addition, the library provides access to a range of electronic resources, including e-journals (some full text), abstracting and indexing databases, image and bibliographic databases and other reference sources. Some of these are only available onsite due to licensing restrictions. Staff are on hand to assist with readers’ research queries and will help with using the NAL catalogue and the available online databases, as well as dealing with enquiries about the Museum’s collections, requests for biographical information about artists and a wide range of other general art historical enquiries.
- Bettley, James, ed. The art of the book: from medieval manuscript to graphic novel. London: V&A Publications, 2001.
- Essential information about the National Art Library