Libraries and Library Cards

2 March 2005

I went to the British Library yes­ter­day and got my library card renewed–this time they gave me a year. When I first came here I was sur­prised that you needed a card (they call it a “Reader’s Pass”) to even get into the reading rooms. They also make it sound dif­fi­cult to get one (you need to provide mul­ti­ple forms of id, as well as “prove” that you really really need access to the collection), but once you’re in it is good. It’s quiet, the fur­ni­ture is nice (and gen­er­ous in size), and the staff are very helpful. The col­lec­tion is vast, al­though for some reason a whole lot of it is in Yorkshire and takes a few days to get to London. Also, even for the books that are in London, you can’t get them the same day if you order them after 4pm.

One of the things I was looking for was copies of Life Mag­a­zine from 1961. As it turns out, this is im­pos­si­ble to find using the catalogue. I tried several dif­fer­ent ways, and could only get the search results down to 2000 or so entries that ap­peared in seem­ingly random order. I asked a li­brar­ian and he–after closing down several browser windows that ap­peared to relate to his holiday booking–eventually went to an in­tranet page that listed several pages of serials that are “difficult” to find using the catalogue. A library that can’t find stuff in it’s own catalogue?

By the way, if anyone’s interested, the British Library cur­rently has free WiFi (in the public lobby area) until the 11th of March. You can also, as a member of the public, get im­pres­sively study clear plastic bags from near the coat check. (Readers take their be­long­ings into the reading rooms in these.) Oh, if you go that far you should also check out the “3D” “painting”.