LATELY — 2 March 2005

Libraries and Library Cards

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”.