Friday, July 18, 2008

Reading and Writing


Research at the British Library differs from that at other libraries, by dint of the fact that there are relatively few books on the actual shelves. Unless you are interested in the most basic of books, so I am told, you need to reserve the books you are looking for online. Subsequently, perhaps two days later, depending on where the books are actually stored, you will be able to look at the books in a certain reading room and at a certain time.

In that reading room you will not be able to have in your possession a pen. Why not? Because some idiot (to use the same words as the person who told me) caused £50,000-worth of damage. So you are allowed a pencil and a laptop, carried in a clear plastic bag. No pens, no knives, no scissors. (Well, let's face it: if people are prepared to write graffiti on Stonehenge which has been in existence for thousands of years, they are hardly like to respect an ancient book or manuscript.)

How do I know all this? Because yesterday I joined the British Library as a "reader". I was able to do so without having to prove I am a researcher because I am a member of the Society of Authors. I can't wait to start exploring the Library: it looks fascinating. They even run courses in how to handle books and historical documents.

I have to say that I am fascinated by the idea of the catalogue -- there are courses in how to use that as well. It seems like a curious mixture of online and offline research. You have to search for, and order, the resources you need online in order to consult them offline.

Another thing that caught my imagination is that, in the British Library, owning a laptop is a distinct advantage over not owning one -- unless you like making notes in pencil, of course.

The reading rooms have free wi-fi, so I can see myself sitting there reading an original resource and also, at times, checking something out online. For example, I also have access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Oxford English Dictionary, through my ordinary local library membership. I'll write about that soon, and I'll keep you posted about my experiences of researching at the British Library.


"We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language." So said Oscar Wilde, and I was reminded of this when Susan McLester, of Hot Chalk, started off with a disagreement before we have even got to know each other. Susan had pulled me up over my inclusion of punctuation marks inside quotation marks. Turns out we are both right: British and American schoolkids are taught different rules of grammar.

You will be able to read the offending sentences next Monday, I believe, when the first instalment of my Ed Tech Diary will appear. I hope you will drop by!

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