Saturday 15 September 2012

National Trust Libraries

Yvonne Lewis is Assistant Libraries Curator of the National Trust and she came to help us see in September by talking to us at a very well attended event. She gave us a potted history of the acquisition of National Trust Libraries and told us a little bit of what they are doing now. This was accompanied by slides featuring images of some very beautiful books (the Huguenot binding was my particular favourite), all courtesy of the Trust’s photo library.

The National Trust was founded in 1895, their first sight being a hillside, but their first property being Coleridge Cottage. These early acquisitions were usually stripped of all contents by the owners before being transferred to the National Trust. As a result there were no libraries, at least none with any books in them. They often had to ‘dress’ the libraries in houses that had them, to make them appear to the visitor how they may have once looked. In some cases, like that of Osterley Park in Middlesex, acquired in the 1940s they were helped by having documentation, such as a catalogue which they could use to try to reconstruct the library contents. If a book or a collection comes up for sale that once belonged to the library of a National Trust property where they can they have been purchasing them to rebuild the original collection as much as they are able.

This changed gradually from the 1940s with the introduction of the Country House Scheme (which sometimes allows the owners to stay in the properties).  The affects of which began to be felt around the 1980s along with the help of laws such as Acceptance in lieu (see a good blog post about it here). This also means they can sometimes even establish which books were in the libraries, and at what point, by studying the paintings of the interiors of the houses and portraits of the inhabitants.  This was not the only detective work they were able to carry out. They can also study the collecting habits of various owners, such as moving the books of predecessors up to second level shelving to make way for their own, newer, books.

They started cataloguing all the books under their remit offline but now they are all online and through that they can connect the libraries of all the houses. As is mostly the case with rare books they these records are concentrated on the copy specific information. They have now joined Copac  and cataloguing activities are ongoing, including all the library objects - tennis balls in one case! The current policy is to look for grants or funding to look after a collection ongoing, before they take it on, so they can catalogue and conserve it in the future.

Many thanks again to Yvonne Lewis and National Trust Libraries.