April 21, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg
Apparently some people are very upset about the fact that undergraduates are clogging up all the desks at the British Library, and complaining to the Times and other British newspapers. Right, let’s look more closely at this.
Point the first: the queues to get into the building are due to the fact that you have to get your bag searched. That’s whether you’re an undergraduate or Lady Antonia Fraser, and it doesn’t matter if you want to spend the day reading in Humanities 1 or gawking at the prices in the gift shop or checking out the Luttrell Psalter under glass.
Point the second: unless they’ve gutted the bottom-most floor since I was last at the BL – in which case they’ll have gotten rid of that splendid wall sculpture that when you walk past it looks like you’re walking past bookshelves (I can’t find a picture, but trust me, it’s cool) – there’s a perfectly good room with lockers. Some of those lockers will hold your coat and – this is the big point – they give you your pound coin back when you’re finished. So queuing for 20 minutes to leave your coat isn’t a mandatory part of this exercise, though elbowing someone out of the way to get to the only remaining big locker may be required.
Footnote to point the second: here’s an account of a visit to the below-ground-level floors of the BL, complete with pictures. I would like a set of those rolling bookshelves, please.
Point the third: okay, yes, it is annoying when you are trying to access the only copy of the Gutenberg Bible bound in human skin existing in the world, and undergrads are taking up desk space for brushing up on Philip Larkin or Rick Astley or whoever British undergrads study these days. But, um, how exactly are you going to decree who is desk-worthy and who isn’t? Except, of course, for Lady A. But her comments about having to wait 30 minutes to get her books clearly don’t refer to undergrads who are only taking up desk space, as otherwise there wouldn’t be a crunch at the issue counter.
Footnote to point the third: there is no Gutenberg Bible bound in human skin. It was a joke.
Finally, point the fourth: Her Ladyship and others (Tristram Hunt whines over at the Grauniad, f’rinstance) complains that the undergraduates should use their own university libraries. Um, those would be the university libraries getting their accession budgets slashed? Those libraries crammed to the gills with students studying for end-of-year, if not end-of-degree, exams? And why can’t those undergraduates choose to go to the BL, when their parents, and eventually they themselves, pay the taxes that support that fine institution?
Conclusion: if they’re eating, drinking, shoving their tongues down each other’s throats, or putting their feet up on the manuscripts, kick them out and revoke their passes. Until then, they deserve to be there just as much as you or I.
And if you still can’t hack it, go to a different London library and borrow a person instead of a book.