Thursday, 18 April 2013

The joys of the British Library Reading Rooms



So here's the reason why you will never catch me dead in the Business reading rooms at the British Library.  I know nobody is asking, and nobody cares, but I am on a tea break and need some way chill.

Last week I sat in the coffee shop opposite the library waiting for the magical moment when the doors open and you enter the pristine stillness of that glorious building, filled only with the keenest and most determined of researchers.  Next to me in the coffee shop there was a couple of fellow 'British Libriers' discussing a new invention which they were planning to patent, and which they were working on marketing.  Their conversation was littered with jargon about cost margins and maximization and goodness knows what other horrors.


On the other side of me was another couple of Libriers talking about import/export regulations.

Now, I have nothing against these people.  I find people capable of such feats really rather impressive.  My problem is that I am just not interested.  One of the most constant joys of the British Library is those rare moments when you raise your bleary eyes from the pages of the book you are reading, and they meet by chance the bleary eyes of another reader on a desk next to you or opposite you.

A connection is made.

Perhaps, later in the day, you might pass those same eyes at the water dispenser, or grabbing a coffee - and words might be exchanged.  It is at that moment that you learn about another persons obsession - their passion, the thing that fills their every waking hour.  It might be somebody researching the life of Nehru, or Nyerere.  It might be somebody debating a minute anomaly in Boyle's law, or working on a chapter about masculinity in Indian wrestling.  .

Listening to these people is so often inspiring, fascinating, engrossing.  Such conversations leave you feeling energised and excited to be sharing a library with such people.

Now last week I was in the British Library working on a set of policy documents relating to intellectual property.  Frankly, I was bored senseless.  The very last thing I would have needed at the time would be to strike up a conversation with somebody else doing something similar.  It is (if you will excuse a phrase which really belongs to a younger man than me) 'not my thing'.

So I sat in the Humanities room surrounded by people doing things I was really interested in, while doing myself something which could only elicit from them a polite 'oh, really?'  And it was brilliant.

Next time, there might be somebody there diving headlong into the chaotic theoretical realms of Lawrence Sterne.  Hopefully, it will be me.