I went to the British Library for the first time today and I was simply blown away by the amount of materials I was able to access in one place at one time. I went to the Rare Book and Music room and viewed about twenty editions of Shakespeare’s works, mostly pre-1850. I cannot believe that this is a free public library and a veritable construct of reading space. On their website it said something to the effect of the British Library building near St. Pancras in London being the biggest building built in the UK in the 20th century. Absolutely incredible.
What are also amazing are the throngs of people moving in, out, and through the building at a time. It is a library, exhibition hall, and museum, but still! I arrived outside the front doors at 9:10am and there were about fifteen people waiting with me. By the doors opened at 9:30, the crowd had swelled to over sixty, with the line reaching across the courtyard. Once inside, I quickly walked to the Reader Registration room and was second in line. It is good that I walk fast because I avoided a line of about twenty people by the time I had finished. Once I got up to the Rare Books room around 10, it was already about a quarter full of people. By 11am, it was nearly full.
Thankfully, I knew what to expect and what to bring thanks to the wonderful introduction here. However, I was also startled by a couple of things. One, my daily limit was already met by the ten items I had preordered. Luckily I was able to fill out a form for an extension to thirty items for the day which was done by 11:30. Two, I could only have six items out at a time. This was not a big deal, but something I was not aware of. Three, one “item” was really just one visit to that shelf location. Because of this, I was able to get up to six volumes in an edition on one item ticket. Four, I could not order any new items after 4pm. This meant that once an item was checked out that day, it was unlikely for it to be returned by then. However, I only missed out on seeing about three books because of this and technically I could always request them, at a later day, to be delivered for free to the Reading Room at Boston Spa.
All in all, making a day trip to British Library from York to London King’s Cross was not a bad idea. I spent almost all of the first six hours engrossed in the materials. Even at 5pm, I still had one book left to go through. I was not quite prepared for everything (and I did not get to see the light on my desk turn on when my books were ready) but the staff helped me through what I did not know. Now I just have to wait until the 9pm train back to York…