The Royal Photographic Society Library at V&A South Kensington – coming soon!


National Art Library
May 23, 2023

From Tuesday 30 May 2023 an extensive collection of more than 20,000 volumes spanning the history of photography will be available to consult in the National Art Library Reading Rooms. The works were collected by the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) from their foundation in 1853 through to the early 2000s, and were transferred to the V&A in 2017, along with the RPS archive and collections of prints, negatives, and cameras.

V&A Photography Centre, The Kusuma Gallery © Thomas Adank, design by Gibson Thornley Architects

The library collection, which contains books, journals, pamphlets and technical manuals from all over the world, will be housed in a new purpose-built room in the V&A Photography Centre. The Kusuma Gallery (Room 98), which has been funded by The Kusuma Trust, will be dedicated to photography and the book. The gallery will visibly house the collection and also provide a changing display of items from it, as well as a selection of new photography books for browsing.

The RPS Library has a very practical focus, which complements the National Art Library’s (NAL) own holdings of historic photographic books and books on photography. It is organised into a bespoke subject classification, which covers everything from Albumen prints to X-rays. Each subject area includes numerous instructional guides alongside examples of the subject they cover.

Access to the collection will be by request, using the National Art Library Catalogue.

General searches on the NAL catalogue will return RPS items in the search results, alongside NAL items as you’d expect. You can also filter your results to show only the RPS Library collection by using the expert search function ‘b8:sc/RPS’ in combination with a keyword or title search in the Advanced Search area of the catalogue:

The NAL database filtered to show RPS books

A new filter option will also be available, which will allow results to be filtered using the ‘Held by Library’ function. This filter option appears at the bottom of the options in the results menu:

The NAL database filtered in the results list

The RPS Library will be offered as a filter option in the collections list.

The RPS Library is organised by subject, so you can use the catalogue’s ‘Browse the shelf’ function to see records for similar items. The ‘Browse the shelf’ function appears at the bottom of the page when you open a full catalogue record and allows you to scroll through records for items shelved next to the book you have been looking at:

A list of books in the NAL database

The RPS books and pamphlets are already searchable in the NAL catalogue, and work is ongoing to catalogue the periodicals. While this cataloguing is in progress, a printed handlist of the periodicals will be available at the NAL counter.

Requests for items from the RPS Library collection will need to be made at least 48 hours in advance of a visit, and will be delivered via the Special Collections Desk in the National Art Library. To request and view these books, you will need to register for an NAL reader’s account. More details on how to register can be found on our webpage.

As well as making the physical collection available, the NAL, through the generous support of The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, has digitised a collection of bound pamphlets from the collection that are now freely available through the Internet Archive. Covering the period 1824 – 1907 the collection contains instruction manuals and trade catalogues, many with original advertising material still in place. These can be viewed online.

The new Photography Centre Galleries will open to the public on Thursday 25 May 2023 and the RPS Library collection will be available to request on the catalogue from that date, with the first delivery of items to the NAL Reading Room available on Tuesday 30 May 2023.

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