About ten years ago, when digital cameras had appeared, I went down to the British Library and asked if I could use mine to photograph manuscript items. The female librarian to whom I spoke looked very angry and rudely and indignantly refused. I remember thinking that the response was more or less as if I had casually asked for the loan of her daughter for the night.
Not long afterwards mobile phones acquired digital cameras. But still the hard-faced refusal went on. I commented, in these pages, on this nonsense. Only last year I went to examine Ms. BL addit. 12150, but had to resort to verbally describing various paragraphing marks, because I had no means to take a snap of the pages.
But the tide has been with us, and finally sense has prevailed. Yesterday I learned via a correspondent of an update to the British Library policies, here.
From 5 January 2015 you will be able to photograph collection items using compact cameras, tablets and mobile phones in the following Reading Rooms:
- Humanities – floors 1 and 2
- Science – floors 2 and 3
- Social Sciences
Photographic copies made may be used for personal reference purposes only and must not be used for a commercial purpose. Copyright and data protection laws may still apply.
Some material will be excluded from self-service photography, including items at risk of damage, or further damage. …
In March 2015 we will extend this service to include the following Reading Rooms:
- Asian & African Studies
- Business & IP Centre
- Rare Books & Music
It is very good news. No doubt there will be teething problems, as the staff get used to the idea that snapping is normal. But it should mean that a lot of material starts to appear online that might otherwise wait for years to appear in someone’s priority queue.
We live in fortunate times. In the 19th century editors had to pay for collations of manuscripts, and thank the owners of the mss fulsomely for even being allowed to have such a thing. It seems unthinkable now. So also the nuisances of very recent times will quickly become historical curiosities.