The National Art Library

The Association for Art History is deeply concerned by the news that the V & A Museum intends to curtail the National Art Library. Plans to make two thirds of the library’s staff redundant, and to remove public access for six months, represents another damaging blow to the arts and culture sectors which have suffered much from the economic downturn.

The National Art Library is a world-leading repository of knowledge, and the UK’s most comprehensive public reference collection of literature in the field of histories of art and design. The museum which houses it, the V&A, was founded on the ethos of providing the public with unfettered access to art and design; the NAL, a collection open to all, embodies such a democratic underpinning, and to scale it back so dramatically will cause devastating harm to the study of art and design. The V&A has said that the move to reduce the NAL staff from 30 down to 10 will, in a restructuring of its research division, “broaden access to the NAL and archival collections”.  We support broadening access to the library and archival collections (resource that are already free to all to use) though we suspect that drastically reducing library staff is not the way to achieve this.

In this extraordinary time of budget reductions, all organisations are challenged to stay true to their missions with fewer resources, focusing effort on the most important of their activities.  A recent press statement from the institution provides that the NAL is “fundamental to the V&A’s mission and purpose.”  The annual savings the V&A seeks to realise (£10m) is less than ten percent of its annual turnover, yet the library is being targeted for a 66% reduction in staffing.  While acknowledging the great financial strain caused by the pandemic, we urge the V&A to take proportional action with regard to this essential service.

As the UK subject association for art history, we firmly oppose the proposed cuts.  We join the UK Library and Information Association, Research Libraries UK, the Art Libraries Society and the Design History Society in objecting to moves which will irrevocably endanger specialist knowledge, collections and access to a public resource.