We have launched a new website and are reviewing this page. Find out more

National Art Library historic catalogues


Access to the Library's collections was transformed with the completion of the National Art Library Heritage Project at the end of 2003. With the help of a grant of £958,400 from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund, the NAL was able to transfer details of all its historic material to the Library Catalogue. The project received matching funding from the V&A itself, plus various other organisations and individuals in the UK and abroad.

Along with all our general collection material, records for the Library's historic collections of sales and exhibition catalogues as well as the NAL's numerous Special Collections can now be searched online.

Main author catalogue

Until completion of the Heritage Project, the Main Author Catalogue was the Library's most substantial catalogue, listing all books and periodicals acquired or catalogued between 1891 and 1986, including some material published before 1890 and transferred from the Pre-1890 Author Catalogue (see below). Originally a card catalogue, it was available from 1987 on microfiche ('the green microfiche'). All entries have now been transferred to the Library Catalogue.

Pre-1890 author catalogue

Before the advent of the 'modern' card catalogue system in 1891, the Library's main catalogue consisted of a series of bound volumes into which the entries were pasted. Part of this catalogue was transferred to the Main Author Catalogue long ago, in the Library's first 'retrospective conversion' project, but the alphabetical sequence from MUEN to VOSM, in six volumes, remained in use until the Heritage Project transferred them to the Library Catalogue. (These volumes contain some entries without pressmarks, for items that are not in fact held in the Library.)

Exhibition handlist

A 'sheaf' catalogue, held in many small green ring-binders, the Handlist included brief details of most exhibition catalogues published between 1890 and 1986. All entries have been transferred onto the Library Catalogue, and in many cases enhanced to provide far fuller information than was present in the original format.

Sales catalogues catalogue

The old card catalogue (transferred to microfiche in 1987, 'the red microfiche') contained entries forabout 48,000 auction house sale catalogues, with a supplementary list of owners' names. Thanks to the Heritage Project these are now accessible on the Library Catalogue, and additionally on SCIPIO, the Research Library Group's union database of sale catalogues.

Children's books catalogue

Before 1987, children's books in the Library were catalogued separately (on cards). All entries are now accessible on the Library Catalogue. (The interim microfiche version was recognisable as 'the purple microfiche').

The catalogue of the Renier Collection of Historic and Contemporary Publications for Children is in the course of being computerised. The majority of books are now listed in the Library Catalogue, with completion planned for 2006.

Beatrix Potter Collections: see the Beatrix Potter Collections page.

Manuscripts catalogues

Prior to the Heritage Project, the main manuscript catalogues were a card catalogue of documentary manuscripts and typescripts, and the unpublished Draft Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. In the 1970s the Library published a Catalogue of English Non-illuminated Manuscripts, with a series of supplements. A detailed and illustrated scholarly published catalogue of the illuminated manuscripts collection by Dr Rowan Watson is in current preparation.

Bindings catalogue

The bindings described in the published selective catalogue by John Harthan, Bookbindings 3rd ed. (HMSO, 1985) are listed in the Library Catalogue, together with other pre-1987 acquisitions. A typescript list held within the Library of its older holdings of fine bindings is however not yet wholly superseded. It is arranged chronologically by country, and includes an index of binders' names. It is accompanied by an incomplete photographic catalogue, which is currently being revised and extended for eventual online publication. TheCatalogue provides detailed information for all noteworthy bindings catalogued since 1987, including the Clements Collection of Armorial Bindings.

Closed collections catalogues

Books and manuscripts in some of the Library's special collections were formerly only detailed in catalogues and handlists ancillary to the main catalogues listed above. Among these the most extensive are the Dyce and Forster Collection catalogues, which are widely known, having been issued in published book form in the 19th century. The contents of these, like all the closed collection catalogues, are now available on the Library Catalogue.


Collection records for material held at the Archive of Art and Design are found on the Library Catalogue, and some archives are catalogued to sub-group or item level here also. For more detailed information, and also to find out about the Victoria and Albert Museum's own archives, see the Archives page.

Subject indexes

For those who want to use the catalogue, not simply to locate a known name or title but to further their research on a topical subject, the Library has always provided extra catalogue access. Since 1987 this has been integrated in the Library Catalogue; in former times, separate indexes existed:

  • Subject index 1937–86
    The crescent-shaped Library Counter was specially designed to shelve the main Subject Index, in its heavy blue post-binders, with entries pasted and re-pasted on large leaves.
  • Subject index 1904–36
    This index, in a series of red bound volumes, also included some pre-1904 material. Headings in both these indexes have been computerised and are being added to online records. In the meantime they are still useful for topical access, and are available in the Centre Room on microfiche.

Note on subject cataloguing terminology

For most of its history, the National Art Library used subject headings developed locally, with reference to the knowledge of art scholarship available within the Museum, and to other systematic terminologies, whether specialist, such as the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), or more general, such as the US Library of Congress's Subject Headings (LCSH). The way these headings were used in the Library's Subject Index, and more recently on the Library Catalogue, for instance using standard subdivisions for period and location, was very similar to LCSH practice, and from January 2003 it was decided to come into line with this internationally-used system, recognisable to many users, and enabling us to share subject cataloguing done by other institutions. As a bonus, many of our older catalogue records contain LC subject headings already, as well as the Library's local terms.

Other research indexes

Printers and publishers index
The old card index of printers and publishers of books in the Library published before 1801 is now available on microfiche (beige-coloured header strip) in the Library, together with a Topographical Index to places of publication. For new acquisitions from the hand-press era catalogued since 1986, the same information is systematically indexed on the Library Catalogue; for older material computerised by the Heritage Project, it can be discovered using keyword searches.

National Art Library opening times

The National Art Library opening times are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10.00 – 17.30 and Friday: 10.00 – 18.30.  It is closed on Mondays and Sundays.

International Training Course

The Victoria and Albert Museum welcomes applications for ‘Creating Innovative Learning Programmes’, its new one week intensive course. This is a unique training opportunity for museum professionals from overseas who are interested in attracting and programming for a range of museum audiences.

Find out more