Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Day at the National Art Library and the British Libary

Now I’ve the piece and the essay title sorted it’s down to the hard graft of research. I’ve joined the National Art Gallery (NAL) at the V&A and also have a British Library (BL)Readers card. Both institutions have on line ordering which means your books are ready when you arrive. Good as it means you start work instantly with the books once you arrive . Bad if you find another book as you read that would be good to refer to as it takes time to retrieve (if they have it on site) BL – 70mins, NAG up to 2hrs.

I had the opportunity to visit both in one day so it was a chance to compare them first hand.


NAG and BL are two very different institutions with their own idiosyncrasies. Neither allows bags in, both offer transparent plastic bags to carry your stuff. The BL is very formal – need your card to get in and bag check to get out of its reading room. The NAL just walk in obtain a seat and your off, you do need your card to get your books like the BL.
In the BL no eating (I was told off for chewing) and pencils only ( I saw a reader being told off for using a biro, by what can only be described as a floor walker whose job was make sure we readers were using the books appropriately). NAL not so rigorously policed – I’m sure they are watching you but not so obviously.

Photocopying and Photographing

The BL inspects all books before you can use the photocopier if they think it’s too big or small or delicate or whatever to copy you have to let them to do it for you and this takes time (days!). Absolutely no photographing at the BL, NAL is a bit more relaxed, you can photograph in fact they offer excellent stands, book supports and weights (see picture) to let you photography – photographing seems positively encouraged.

Book Covers

The BL only gives you the book only – no jacket , the NAL gives you the book with its jacket! This is real joy as this how I discovered the image of St Maurice in Cologne on the cover Vol2 of the Black Image in Western Art. Also makes the book more of a book when it has its jacket. Having said that the NAG doesn’t bind the cover in plastic so it’s taking a risk of the cover being destroyed by handling.


Both have splendid out door spaces to have lunch – if you like water the NAG has a lovely paddling pool but it is surrounded by the weirdest green plastic things. The BL has a great plaza in front of it , very roomy.

Hard to say which is the best – BL has a bigger choice of course as it says this is ‘the world’s knowledge’ while the NAL is only about art. On balance I liked the NAL as you could photograph the books and take your stuff with you there and then!

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