Monday, April 28, 2008

Chaos at the British Library

Here's an interesting story from today's New York Times about the venerable British Library, which is apparently the victim of it own success. Since the Library's 1998 move to its new home on Euston Road and its decision four years ago to liberalize its admission policies, its reading rooms are now available to "'anyone who has a relevant research need.'" That includes such well-known authors as Lady Antonia Fraser as well as undergraduate students who "hog the seats...and gather into clumps of chattering hormonal aimlessness." The overcrowding at the Library has been the subject of two recent articles in The Times of London, one of which described Lady Antonia's twenty-minute wait outside in cold weather and her additional twenty-minute wait for the obligatory coat check. Lady Antonia and other long-time users of the British Library believe the students are using the reading rooms as gathering places, not places for serious research, and wonder why they cannot use their university libraries. In order to help manage the traffic, the Library has "installed plasma screens announcing which reading rooms are full, in the manner of municipal parking lots." The Library is also sending out monitors to remind users of correct behavior while using the facility. However, these measures are not placating users such as Lady Antonia's daughter Flora Fraser, who has praised the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where readers can reserve a seat in advance over the Internet. "That way, no one turns up at the library only to find that all the spots are taken, a common problem at the British Library. 'Actually, I really recommend it,' [Ms. Fraser said]. 'Maybe the answer is to get on the Eurostar and go to Paris.'" I never thought I'd see the day when the British looked to the French as models of efficiency!

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Ah, one day I'd like to make it to the British Library...looks like I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I can get a seat!
Although without a 'relevant research need' (just a desire to see the building), do you think they'll let me in? :-)