Wednesday, 22 February 2017

On Losing my British Library Virginity

So this week I took myself to the British Library for the first time. The Modernist Journals Project has digitised the majority of my primary source, which let me tell you I am *highly* appreciative of, but the final few years of The Little Review aren't yet available online, so I had to pop down to the archives in London. I say 'had to', it was actually such a motivating experience to be able to touch and smell actual copies of the magazine, carefully tucked away since the 1920's.

So, this post is a mixture of just chatting about my time in the Big L, and information about visiting the British Library that I wish had been more accessible!

I stayed at my friend Lindsey's house in Kennington, which is great because a) you can see the Shard from her house, and b) she lives with a Cockerpoo puppy. I got in silly late on a Sunday because I was in work during the day, and I thought it would be a smart idea to get a Mega Bus instead of the train... seven hours later, I kindof wished I'd just sucked up the extra £20 it would have cost me... Anyway, I got there, and we drank tea and gossiped and it was cute. The next morning we took ourselves for brunch at Sketch, which was even cuter.

After far too much faffing about around Carnaby Street, I arrived at the library. I had pre-registered online which I would definitely recommend, it saved me a lot of time. The British Library isn't like a normal library -you don't just walk in and take out books. It's more of an archive, and the security was surprisingly but pleasingly high; I had my bag inspected when I arrived like at an airport, and you're not allowed to bring large luggage into the building. Having arrived, I completed my Reader Registration which involved showing an ID and proof of address, and also having my picture taken for a card - I was super warm, so my hair was kindof gross,but at least I was wearing lipstick. Swings and roundabouts.

All that done, I had to put my stuff in a locker and head into the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, to which I had pre-ordered the documents I needed. You're not allowed to really take things into the Reading Rooms - a pencil, laptop, glasses, your phone. It all has to fit in a clear plastic bag they provide. You're also not allowed to wear a coat,and it turns out they're pretty strict on this which was vaguely annoying - I was wearing a jacket which was definitely a thin indoor jacket and not a coat, but because it hung lower than my bum the man at the door made me go back and put it in my locker. So heads up - maybe wear a jumper if you're visiting, because the Rare Collections man is clearly not attuned to the nuances of the Spring/Summer catalogue. 

The archive work itself was magical. You are allowed to photograph the collection, so I was essentially able to create my own digital collection of the things I think I might need in the next couple of months. Also, there just is something really lovely about handling the actual entity, the thing you're dedicating four years of your life to. If you're a researcher and your source is digitised, I would still highly recommend doing some archive work, just to feel it.

I ended up staying quite late (the Reading Room is open 10-8), and then I went for dinner and some gin with my friend Alex, but we went to Wetherspoons, so I didn't take any pretentious toilet selfies there, sorry.

Being slightly cold aside, I had a really wonderful first experience.The man who completed my registration,and the people who found my documents were super friendly and impressively knowledgeable, and the atmosphere was really conducive to work. Also, just what a bloody incredible place - there is so much knowledge there, and so much untapped knowledge there, it was a real privilege to be able to be a tiny part of moving that forwards. I'll be heading back soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...