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Dr John Hawkins

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British Library

Posted on 2008/11/23 12:14:22 (November 2008).

[Saturday 22nd November]
By this morning my temperature was pretty much back down to normal, and I think I was probably over the worst of it. I managed to sleep much better last night, at least until about 6:45 in the morning, at which point I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep.

Owing to my recent interest in Seager Evans and Co. I'd been keen to visit the British library. I'd found in their online catalogue they had two relevant publications about the company.

I was initially a bit unsure about leaving the flat today, but apparently you have to be a registered "reader" to use the British library, and the registration office is closed on Sunday. Given that the tube would take us pretty much door to door, and I was fairly sure it would be nice and warm in there, I thought I'd give it a go.

Whilst I'm glad to say I've been there, I found the experience a bit of a disappointment to be honest. The whole thing just seemed very bureaucratic. It's not anything like a typical library where you can just wander in and browse casually through the shelves. One requirement of registration is that you already need to know the particular "shelf marks" of the titles you're looking for, and it seems most books are not out on public display, they have to be ordered. I suppose that's just a practicality given the sheer amount of books they have, but still, how often do people go to a library or bookshop with the intention of borrowing / buying one exact book in mind? It sort of takes the fun out of it somewhat. Moreover there's a deathly silence in the reading rooms that I found quite uncomfortable. It typically takes about an hour for a book to be retrieved from storage, but I found I had to leave the reading room for at least some of that time as (A) it wasn't as though there were other books I could be idly browsing while I was waiting and (B) there was a bit of an unpleasant atmosphere in there.

Anyway, I managed to get one of the two books I was looking for - the other had apparently been "mislaid", and upon enquiring was told there was no realistic prospect of it ever being found. The book that they were actually able to locate had a few interesting bits and piece in it, but most of it I had found on the web already. I'm sure there were probably other books in their collections that would have had relevant information, but how would I ever find them? Their catalogue search is limited to effectively looking for authors or titles, and given that there is no way to just browse by subject area (at least not for the majority of books which were in storage), then all these other potentially valuable sources might just as well be mislaid as well. It seems a shame really.

Back at home in the evening I made spaghetti bolognese (a vegetarian version thereof, of course) for dinner, and watched a load of mostly fairly crappy TV.

Comment 1

I suppose in the long run, John, that 20 years down the line we will be all be wondering what libraries were all about. Heaven forbid, that said, the disappearance of book.

Posted by Bryan at 2008/11/23 18:52:48.

Comment 2

Next time you go, wear a big "Smile" tee-shirt.

Posted by John's Mum at 2008/11/27 12:07:57.

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