Cambridge University Library manuscripts department are idiots

Apparently Cambridge University Library has appointed someone new to be in charge of the manuscripts room.  That man is a jerk.  He wants to make his mark, so has “increased security.”  Yes, I know; we all wince when librarians do this.

This I found out today when I tried to look at the catalogue of manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples.  As a manuscripts-related book, access to it is through the manuscripts room, to which I have access (which required a special letter of introduction).

I arrive at the door of the reading room, with my special clear plastic bag containing my wallet, notebook, assorted pencils, etc.  First I have to sign my name and card number in a paper register.  Then I am denied access.  I am handed a key and told to leave my bag in a locker outside, and hold in my hands whatever I need.  I do so. 

Then I come back; and they still won’t let me in.  I have to give them the key to the locker; and they give me a tag for it.  Then they let me in.

Then I go to where the book should be.  It isn’t there.  Indeed there is no sign of a whole range of books in that shelfmark.  I go to the desk; they don’t know where it is either.  After messing me about for 10 minutes I just want to leave this creepy, horrible place.

And then, of course, I have to go through the rigamarole again in order to leave.  Remember, not a single person in that room has got there without already passing a vetting, before they were even given a library card.

Possibly I could have ordered the book at the desk, gone away, and come back again, going through this “security” nonsense FOUR TIMES.  Frankly I couldn’t face it, and went without.

Finally… CUL has no mechanism for complaints.  Very angry and frustrated.  They have the book.  I want to look at it.  I’m authorised to look at it.  And I can’t.

6 thoughts on “Cambridge University Library manuscripts department are idiots

  1. What you describe in some ways resembles the entry and exit procedures for an insane asylum or the psychiatric ward of a hospital. In these other facilities, however, one is treated with great consideration.

  2. I did indeed wonder aloud in the reading room whether the measures were intended satirically. Judging from the expressions of the staff, they are accustomed to an unfriendly response to such time-wasting.

    The problem is the lack of accountability to users. Any minor bureaucrat can harass the latter as he pleases.

  3. Ironically this is considered NORMAL behavior for Greek goverment institutions. You will not believe what torture I went through to get an unemployment card, let alone what I am going through to get my graduate degree recognized. What is behind this horrible behaviour simple: Bureaucrats see themselves as public employees and not civil servants. They see their job as power to dominate other people, not as a service to other people

  4. Is there any kind of readers association or body that carries any weight and could represent the public (or the reader section of it) and talk to such libraries? So far university libraries are not seen as services to the public, such as the public libraries. I wonder how these university libraries are funded. Is it tax payers money that goes into their coffers or is it money paid by the elite that join them (I am particularly talking about Oxbridge).

  5. Reasonable questions. I think Oxford and Cambridge will fund the UL from taxpayers, as the money in those institutions belongs to the colleges, not the university as such.

    I ought to chase this up, I really did.

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