We learned that although some reference books are stored within the readering rooms, most are closed access and need to be requested from patrons. Similar to The British Library, readers need know what they would like to see and request the materials with forms. The retrieval system currently in place has been in effect since 1899!
The subjects covered in the collection include texts and artifacts specific to theVictoria and Albert Museum such as: drawing; paintings; ceramics; sculptures; and art, as well as information on specific artists. Surprisingly, our guide noted that they their policy for art books is generous and the library accepts most published art books. A majority of the National Art Library's collection can be found online at http://catalogue.nal.vam.ac.uk/ .
Interestingly, part of the West Room of the library is being cleared and made into a gallery of 20th century artifact, so I assume that there may be some internal struggles with delagating space for the collection of the library and space for new exhibits. This visit also further reintereated the idea that a library is not only a place to hold books, but is more and more becoming a depository for the preservation of culture and peoples.
Following our tour of the library, we were able to view books in the conservation area of the museum. The items held here are sometimes loaned by other institutions or are used in displays and exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Musuem. I think that this was the most exciting part of our tour as we were able to view Jonathan Swift's draft of Gulliver's Travels and see the final changes he made (wonderful). This is the time we were also able to view books that were actual pieces of art in and of themselves such as Killing, a meditation on the treatment of animals for consumer goods.