Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Year Resolution

Apart from access to materials, there are benefits to going out to do research at the British Library. For a start, I'm showered and dressed rather than still in my pyjamas. Instead of the radio for company or disputes with R about interruptions I have a background buzz of fellow workers discreetly interacting with helpful desk staff in the reading room plus people on either side tapping away at key boards. It's a bit like being in an exam room only more relaxed.

I caught a train from London Bridge station to marvellous St Pancras next door. I’ll soon get fed up with ten minutes crushed into standing room only, and not very much of that, en route to London Bridge from Lewisham. Still, it’s my New Year Resolution to do three days a week. I must remember to take out my book in good time, as once on the train it’s impossible to reach the bag wedged between my feet.

The huge BL interior walls and stairs resemble marble, like the British Museum's entry hall. Quite appropriate for a temple of learning, I’d say; very airy and modern. Walkways surround a central area with a kind of four-sided book-case rising in the middle, leather spines adding a touch of gravitas. I read in the handbook that Anthony Horowitz used this place to research for Foyle's War. It's a feel-good building.

Traffic is heavy in the public spaces, now crammed with desk-chairs and sockets for computers, all fully occupied by noon. The demographic profile has gone down by abut thirty years. I saw a man eating salad from a plastic box balanced on his keyboard and another with baby buggy parked at his elbow. Notices say the cafe tables are reserved for people buying food from 1pm-3pm, but plenty of people are talking or reading. The free Internet Wifi must be a big draw: a ‘pilot scheme’.

The Prue Leith specials look good but a room at the top, with canteen-style furnishings and drinks machines is where you can eat your packed lunch. In Summer people sit out in the vaguely Japanese roof garden. Leaflets about forthcoming highbrow activities are laid out on shelves. Maybe later inthemonth I'll go to a day of silent films about the ancient world.

Two of my research days will coincide with my Chinese classes at Frith Street. I aim to break off at noon to get to my class in Soho, and then come back by 2.30pm. It's not a problem keeping a desk, by leaving stuff on it, but by noon all the desks are taken. I used to transfer to the film library off Tottenham Court Road for the afternoon when I was researching my book. I wonder if I'd have a problem there too these days. That's the trouble with an excellent resource; a lot of people want to use it.

The British Library Website:

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