‘A national art library’: if every one of these four words raises questions and demands qualification, together they suggest even more.
Art is so elusive and resistant to institutionalisation that no single library - ‘a’ national art library - could possibly have the omniscience and omnipresence (never mind the money) to collect everything: to take a UK example, how many libraries managed to collect the Freeze (1988) exhibition catalogue at the time? And who collected the ‘programme note’ from that one-off performance in a half-derelict warehouse in Penge? Co-operation and collaboration in collection development are needed to maximise the research resources available in any particular nation, to ensure the retention of last or archival copies - and any national art library must surely have a role in this. However, this just sets up a chain of secondary problems - with access and funding at the top of the list. Individual institutions ultimately have their own agendas and priorities: and this even applies to national institutions, where existing collection strengths may skew collecting priorities. Perhaps we have to accept an incomplete but vibrant mosaic: the librarian’s desire for comprehensiveness and universal bibliographic control cannot be achieved in the real world.