British Library impressions

It has been quite a while since I lasted visited the British Library.  It has been so long, indeed, that when I found a need to do so, I found that my readers’ card had expired in 2008, five years ago.  The building is in central London, a destination pretty much barred to those of us who live outside by punitive railway and discriminatory underground pricing.

Nevertheless I needed to consult a couple of manuscripts, so, very reluctantly, I set the alarm clock for 06:15 and made the awful journey in, arriving around 08:40.

Quite a few things have changed.  The admissions process was as smooth as such things can be.   However … you then have to leave admissions, go to a reading room and find a PC, and then “upgrade” your card.  This last process is so unintuitive that I had to ask for help twice.

Once you have done this, you can place orders … or you can, if you can work out how.  The website is a surreal mess.  My colleague was completely unable ti work it; I had to guess how to do so.

After which … a wait of 70 minutes for the mss!  That was very pathetic.   So I went to the canteen on upper ground, where only junk is available that no normal person could eat.

Faux de mieux, I whipped out my ultrabook and decided to see what the BL would try to charge me for wifi.  Not that I intended to pay; I can rig up web access via my phone.   To my surprise it was free to readers; the awful process of creating an online account suddenly seemed less burdensome, now I got something for it.  Well done, British Library; such an access is a tool.

Sadly it was too slow to allow me to download a critical edition from  This needs to be fixed.

The library is still resisting user photography.   The admissions clerk gave a stupid-sounding excuse, which clearly neither of us believed.  This can only be a matter of time, I think.

The British Library has fought hard to hold back the progress of technology.  But it seems that things are improving.   Good!

UPDATE: While enduring the dreadful online ordering system for manuscripts, I clicked on the “feedback” link and expressed my feelings.  And today … I got a form response from some clerk, telling me that I had to have a BL readers’ card to use that option!  Still, I suppose it saved him the trouble of discovering that I did…


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