Museum libraries and library history: joining the research conversation at the National Gallery
Jonathan Franklin (The National Gallery, London)
Changing roles are a feature of museum libraries today. The traditional role of supporting curatorial research is still key, but the importance of research to curators and to the museum, and, in some institutions, the status of curators within the museum, has not stood still in recent years. Evolving from a passive to a more active role is one way in which museum libraries can navigate these shifting tides. This presentation will describe ways in which the National Gallery Library is adapting itself to join the research conversations within the institution, as well as in the wider arenas of art history and library history. The National Gallery holds the Eastlake Library, the “founding library” acquired in 1870 from the widow of its first Director, Sir Charles Eastlake (1793-1865). Rather than focus on some of the many rare or unique volumes in the Eastlake Library, the presentation will discuss the role of the collection as a whole. Within the last year the Eastlake Library has been the focus of a rare books cataloguing project and also one of the principal drivers for putting the Library catalogue online. This work has fed into a long article in the National Gallery’s scholarly Technical Bulletin on how the Library underpinned Charles Eastlake’s pioneering work on technical art history and the writing of his landmark monograph Materials for a History of Oil Painting (1847). The Eastlake Library has also been the anchor for participation in an important international digital humanities project, Digital Cicognara, which seeks to re-create in digital form the art history library of Count Leopoldo Cicognara (1767–1834), now held at the Vatican Library. Moreover, it will now be the research focus for a collaborative doctoral project starting in 2018, in partnership with the School of Librarianship at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, a centre for expertise in the field of library history. The PhD student will explore the part played by the Library in supporting Eastlake as a scholar and a museum director, as well as the international scholarly context for emerging specialist art libraries in the 19th century. This is an area ripe for further study: evidence for the historical evolution of the specialist art library does exist in the form of surviving libraries, such as those of Cicognara and Eastlake, or in the form of published and unpublished catalogues; but the documentation is scattered, and no attempt has yet been made to synthesise it or to draw conclusions about how these libraries supported, advanced and shaped the intellectual environment of their personal or institutional owners and readers. Art libraries are an integral part of the history of art history. Our hope is that other art librarians will be inspired to explore the history of their libraries, and that this in turn will assist them in convincing their institutions of the historical and ongoing value of the library to their programmes and projects.
Jonathan Franklin became the Librarian of the National Gallery in 2014, having been Chief of Library and Archives at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. His most recent publication is an article on Sir Charles Eastlake’s use of his Library in writing his classic monograph, Materials for a History of Oil Painting (1847). He was a contributor to Essays in the History of Art Librarianship in Canada (2006) http://www.arliscanada.ca/hal/arlis-hal.pdf. He has served on the Council of ARLIS/UK & Ireland, the Board of the Art Libraries Society of North America, and the Art Libraries Section Standing Committee of IFLA.