Courtauld Institute : Cuts Challenge Witt Library

Many paintings dealers have expressed their concern about changes introduced to the operation of the Witt Library by the management of the Courtauld Institute last summer.  Most of the library staff were dismissed, and replaced by fewer, less qualified staff.  The new staff are no longer able to offer the range of services previously offered.  In particular they no longer cut, paste and file images in the box files to keep the records up to date.  Nor are the library now able to accept accessions of new material.

Following the widespread concern expressed, not only in the art trade, Sir Nicholas Goodison was appointed by the Courtauld to carry out a study into how the Witt, and Conway, libraries might best be operated in future.  This study is still continuing but SLAD organised a meeting with some of their members at which Sir Nicholas said:
a) that the libraries are chronically underfunded.  Even to continue operating at the current level they face a deficit of at least £70,000 a year.
b) that he doubts that it will ever be possible to resume cutting and pasting material into files or even that it would make sense to try to do so.  The best that they could offer would be to maintain the existing material in the libraries with new material being made accessible electronically.
c) that his consultations so far suggested that the top priority for the art trade, apart from keeping the libraries open, was the provision of a qualified librarian.  It also seemed that the trade might be prepared to contribute financially to this.  It would help in formulating his conclusions to know how much the trade might be prepared to contribute on an annual basis over, say, the next five years.

Clearly the auction houses have a major interest in the continuance of the Witt and would be expected to play a big part in any efforts to provide additional funding.  Without seeking a firm commitment at this stage, it would be helpful to know whether any of you would in principle be prepared to pay an annual contribution for the next 5 years in order to provide a qualified librarian to run the Witt library and if so what amount would you be prepared to pay. We are only at this stage trying to establish numbers and would not pass your names to Sir Nicholas or the Courtauld!

Sarah Percy-Davis
Chief Executive