Tuesday, 14 July 2015

ARLG London and South East Visit to the Wallace Collection Library and Archive

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to participate in a visit to the Wallace Collection Library and Archive, organised by ARLG London and South East. The Wallace Collection is located within Hertford House, near Oxford Street in London, and is an impressive collection of paintings (particularly 18th century French work), furniture, porcelain and arms and armour. It grew from the private collections of the first four Marquesses of Hertford, and was bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace (widow of Sir Richard Wallace, son of the fourth Marquess) in 1897.

The Library began as a research library for curatorial staff, though it is now open to the public by appointment. It contains around 20,000 books, periodicals and exhibition catalogues relating to the artworks in the collection, as well as the De Walden collection of rare fencing books, which it holds on long-term loan. The Archive has files relating to the history of the collection and related material. Both the Library and Archive employed professional staff only comparatively recently.

We were taken on a tour of the Library, which is more complicated than it sounds: the "proper" library is in the basement, but there are other rare books in a cabinet within the museum, and more on the top floor within staff offices. Like many libraries there is a problem with lack of space, and staff also have to face challenges from members of curatorial staff, who like to have "their" books with them. Like many museums, the Library is not always seen as a priority - museum concerns take centre stage. However, despite this the Library is doing well, with the collection almost fully catalogued. I really enjoyed this fascinating visit.