What a relief to get back to the British Library. Six months away! I’ve felt it and I didn’t realise just how essential to my life a library was. At the time of writing Cambridge University Library is open only for collection and it’s the same story with the ARU library as well as Cambridgeshire Libraries. I can only get one three-hour slot per week at the BL, but I will take what I can get.
I’ve been coming to the British Library since the late 1990s. Back then the head of department at Glasgow University, Professor Richard Cronin, gave me a letter to take to the British Museum for a card. At that time I was studying for my first degree and also working for Honda fixing motorbikes. Every month I took my van to London to pick up parts and to work at the workshop in Hendon. It was right next to the wonderful Colindale Newspaper Library that I would soon be using as well. I had to take advantage of my two nights in London as I had this parallel life as a student. That meant getting a reader’s ticket to the BL.
British Library Reading Rooms
The British Museum circular reading room and the North Library at the British Museum became my monthly go to places to work on my essays. I would ponder on what I would write as I drove down and when I stopped I’d scribble down notes. The library was wonderful. There were large catalogues with pasted-in entries to consult and get the details for requests from. Then, after two days in the workshop, I would go back to the library to consult the books and pamphlets I’d asked for 48 hours before. The weight of history was in these rooms, Dickens, Marx, and countless superhero literary figures had worked here. Maybe it was the magic of their presence that made every trip a concentrated one where work always got done.
When the library moved to the new building at St Pancras I missed the ambience of the old library at first, but not as much as I appreciated the speed of getting books now. Under the new Covid temporary shorter opening-time system, it is back to ordering books 48 hours before arriving. It’s very weird with the amount of security and the masks, but when I’m in there, I feel the place as I always have. I kept grinning under my mask as soon as I hit the building.
At last I’ve been able to get books that I could have got from the open shelves until only recently. Works on the relationship between engineering, literature and philosophy by Maxine Berg, Jon Klancher, Christine MacLeod, Eric Robinson, Alison Twells and Jocelyn Holland have been my go to works over August and into September. Three hours is really not enough, but it is something and right now I’ll take whatever access there is.