July 6th- St. Paul’s Library and the National Art Library at Victoria and Albert Museum

My trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral began by climbing up the southwestern staircase. Our tour guide, Librarian Joe Wisdom, started by informing our group that BBC’s television crew might get in the way since they were setting up for filming the next day. Due to the filming, there were electric cables and lights all over the second floor we toured. To truly begin our tour, we walked through the upper gallery with framed pictures and a wall of shelved stones from earlier parts of the cathedral. Joe Wisdom mentioned the cathedral was not set up as a museum in the legal sense but they still tried to operate as a museum in regards to preservation and handling of the artifacts.

Me on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Me on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After walking around and viewing the cathedral from the second floor, Librarian Wisdom brought us to a room with a very large-scale rendering of the original cathedral design. The original model was very unpopular in England and ended up not being built. The clergy desired a more classic cross cathedral design instead of the new architectural dome design.

The last stop on the tour of St. Paul Cathedral was the cathedral’s library. Joe Wisdom talked about the environment or the need to look at the envelope (location/storage) of the collection. The gutters and drains of the building can impact the collection if something happens so the librarians needs to pay attention to every part of the surroundings. Additionally, Wisdom discussed the conservation of the library. He showed us how to properly grab books from the shelf and to not pull from the top of the binding but instead to push the books next to the desired text and then grab it in the middle. As for cataloging, the big books were on the bottom and the small books on the top, and then the books were organized alphabetically.

The tour of the library concluded our visit of St. Paul Cathedral; we then moved over to the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. My group started with the “treasures” of the library. Many of the books were rare because of their age and publication genre. There was a 1589 book about Tailoring. The book was the first book published on the subject. Prior to the book, tailoring was a mysterious trade yet the book shined light on the topic. There was also a 1500s New Testament book with white satin cover and amazing detailed pages. Through the treasures portion of the tour, our guide explained that there is an estimated 1 million books in the collection. There are still some items not stored in proper archival boxes but they are slowly switching over.

One of the rare treasures at the National Arts Library.

One of the rare treasures at the National Arts Library. Published 1833.

The second portion of the tour gave the history and functions of the library. The reading room and center room are open to the public during certain hours. The strength of the collection is around decretive arts and design. Not really information about painting but items around such as furniture, textiles and silverware. The library is Britain’s leading public arts and design reference library, however, if the item is very rare the user needs to write-in a reason to why they want to use the item. The library does have a wide range of visitors from students, auction houses, writers, and artist. All the people are welcomed.

Reading Room at National Art Gallery.

Reading Room at National Art Gallery.


As for the history of the library and collection, it all started in 1837 when the library for the government’s school of design opened. In 1852, the library moved locations and in 1884 purpose built rooms for the library were created that are still used today. After giving the brief history and functions of the library as a reference center, we moved through the stacks and offices of the library. That ended our trip to the National Art Library.


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