Virginia Woolf’s writing desk has been an important fixture in the library’s exhibit suite since it opened after the renovation in 2015. The standing desk with an angled writing surface was designed and commissioned by Virginia Woolf in the early 1900s and resided first in Asheham, then in Monks House. In the 1920s the desk was was painted by Woolf’s nephew, Quentin Bell, and the legs were later shortened by his wife, Olivier. The plinth on which the desk now rests restores the writing surface to its original height.
The desk has been a focal point of the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, a smaller gallery space positioned at the back of the suite of three rooms. Recently, Woolf’s desk has been relocated to a more prominent home: the window alcove between Rubenstein Library’s Photography Gallery and Reading Room.
Prior to moving the desk, we spent a couple of months monitoring the environment inside the alcove. We have been carefully looking at the environmental conditions inside each of the exhibit galleries for a long time, so we have a good understanding of the intervals and degree of change in temperature and relative humidity in those spaces. The Stone gallery is very stable, being positioned behind doors and the other exhibit rooms. The photography gallery experiences more fluctuations due to its proximity to exterior doors. Longtime readers may recall our 2018 experiment to monitor the environment inside frames.
We have environmental data from the center of the reading room, but none from the alcove itself. It seemed best to position one of our Onset HOBO MX1101 data loggers right at the height of the desk, rather than on the floor and I didn’t want to cause any damage to the wood paneling on the walls. The MX loggers have magnets on the back, which are extremely useful for deploying them in the stacks, but no metal surfaces are available nearby. Luckily I was able to find some plastic hooks that could be used to attach the HOBO directly to the glass.
The hook pivots and, as you rotate it down into position, creates additional suction inside the cup. The manufacturer indicates these hooks can hold up to 5lbs, so they are strong enough to hold a data logger. The suction does diminish over time, however. I found that they failed after about 2 months, so I did have to reset the hook about half-way through the monitoring period.
The MX data loggers have built in mounting loops, but they weren’t big enough to fit the end of the hook – so I created a short chain with textile tapes to put them in the right orientation. Anticipating that photo gallery visitors or researchers inside the reading room might be curious about a small device hanging on the glass, I attached small labels on either side of the data logger to explain its purpose.
After collecting environmental data for the space for several months, we were assured that the alcove was a good space for the desk to live. We hope that more visitors to the library can enjoy this important piece of literary history.