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Perspectives In Circulation

Library Study Tour

A whirlwind tour of libraries in France, the Netherlands, and the UK

Dec 20, 2023

Interior of Labrouste Reading Room

Over the span of two weeks in late October and early November, I visited thirteen academic and museum libraries in England, Amsterdam, and Paris with the support of the Museum’s Margaret and Herman Sokol Travel Grant. Each site is known for its vast collections, outstanding services, and commitment to scholarly art research. The purpose of these visits was to connect with colleagues at similar institutions and learn about how their libraries function for visiting researchers.

The staff at these libraries were gracious and generous with their time. They provided me with fascinating library tours, engaging presentations, and conversations about their libraries’ histories, collections, and services. My hope is that these visits lead to lasting connections, and that I can apply the inspiration, knowledge, and ideas to my role at Watson Library. These were a few of the highlights.

My first stop was London where I visited the Vernon Square Library at The Courtauld Institute of Art. I love this statement on their website, which I feel sets an important intention for any library aspiring to be welcoming and inclusive: “We aim to offer you the best library experience possible, whatever and however you are studying.”

Book display

New Book Display at the Vernon Square Library at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. It is always exciting to see Met exhibition catalogs included in other library displays. How many can you spot here? All photos by the author.

I headed over to the Library and Archive at the Tate Britain next and heard from library staff about their collection of more than 10,000 artists’ books. I was lucky enough to view a few special highlights in person, and they inspired a greater appreciation for the artists’ books in Watson Library’s collection.

Artists' books on display

A glimpse of the “Document or Artwork?” exhibition at the Tate Britain showcasing artists’ books from the Library and Archive’s vast collection.

Two librarians displaying Watson Library swag

Representing Watson Library in London. Alan Crookham, Research Centre Manager, and Hannah Woodley, Librarian at The National Gallery, London, displaying their Watson swag.

The rest of my days in England flew by. My visits to The National Gallery Library and The Heinz Archive and Library at The National Portrait Gallery included viewings of some of their special collections and left me wanting more. On my visit to The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum, I was positively overwhelmed by their historic reading rooms and collections.

Interior of National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Love at first sight. Once I stepped into The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, I never wanted to leave.

This was followed by a day trip to Oxford University to visit the Bodleian Libraries’ Taylor Institution Library; Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library; and Nizami Ganjavi Library.

Entrance to Bodleian Libraries’ Art, Archaeology, and Ancient World Library

The welcoming entrance to Bodleian Libraries’ Art, Archaeology, and Ancient World Library in Oxford.

Library christmas tree

Getting into the holiday spirit by way of the literary Christmas tree at St. Pancras International station as I started my journey from London to Amsterdam. 

My journey continued to the Netherlands. After I had my fill of stroopwafels, I set out for The Hague, where I visited the RKD, also known as the Netherlands Institute for Art History. According to their website, they are the Netherlands’ largest art historical library. I visited the KB next, also known as National Library of the Netherlands, which is currently located in the same building as RDK. I was particularly interested to hear about the KB’s digital library, Delpher, and their dedication to their readers.

Exterior of Den Haag Centraal

My first sight upon exiting Den Haag Centraal, The Hague’s central train station. With this view, I had no problem finding the libraries I was visiting. 

After The Hague, I made my way to Amsterdam. I visited the Van Gogh Museum Library, which in addition to their comprehensive collection of reference resources, has books that were read by Van Gogh himself. A quick stroll through the Museumplein led me to the Rijksmuseum to visit their majestic Research Library. 

the majestic interior of the Rijksmuseum Library

A visitor’s view of the majestic Rijksmuseum Library, Amsterdam.

My final stop on the trip was Paris, where I was fortunate enough to visit and meet with staff at the Library and Documentation Archives at the Musée d'Orsay and the Kandinsky Library at the Centre Pompidou. I was especially interested to visit the Library at The National Institute for Art History (INHA) and hear about their contributions to art historical research. I would love to return there as a researcher to explore the Jacques Doucet collection.

Interior of Labrouste Reading Room

Basking in the natural light at the Labrouste Reading Room, The National Institute for Art History (INHA) in Paris.

I have resumed my daily routine at Watson Library, but each day I am reminded of the array of knowledge, history, and innovation at each of the libraries I visited. In turn, I have a greater appreciation for Watson Library’s comprehensive collections, extensive resources and services, and dedicated staff, and look forward to continuing our mission to “support the research activities of the Museum staff and to offer access and outstanding services to an international community of students and scholars.”

About the contributors

Assistant Museum Librarian for Reader Services