Visit to the Wallace Collection on 17th February

The Wallace Collection is a national museum displaying the works of art collected by the first 4 Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marques. It was bequeathed to the nation in 1897. It is therefore publicly funded but has to raise a portion of its running costs itself

The library belonging to Sir Richard Wallace does not form part of the collection, although some of the books from his library have since been acquired.

The present library was originally established as a research library for the curatorial staff. The collection therefore reflects the collections within the museum. It is also a reference library open to the public by appointment. Acquisitions since 2000 are on Opac

The library has two members of staff; the librarian Andrea Gilbert who is currently also the archivist, and a cataloguer. The archives relate to the founders of the collection, the actual collection and the history of the museum itself.

A number of challenges were highlighted during the visit. The first was the acute shortage of space, particularly for the archives. Also the library collection is scattered. Most of it is housed in the offices of the different curators. It is therefore important for visitors to state in advance what they would like to see. The most recent acquisitions are in stacks adjacent to the library.
What is key in locating a book therefore is the date of acquisition.

Because curators are used to having what the reference books close at hand there is also a reluctance for the books to be moved so that they can be arranged more systematically elsewhere.

Another challenge with such a small staff is supervising the library so that the public can have access while at the same time keeping up with other necessary library duties.

Very little of the library collection had been catalogued before Andrea arrived and this is now being done systematically. In the meantime location is key to finding a book. While it is possible to download some records, alot of the books are very specialist and therefore new catalogue records have to be created. The library has adopted the classification system used by the Courtauld, where Andrea used to work, which focusses on the type of artificate e.g porcelain, portraits, gold and silver etc.

An interesting visit that highlighted the pressures of a specialist library with a small staff and conflicting demands.

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