living and learning

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Going to the British Library, Boston Spa

This is a follow-up to the post on 'how to get hold of obscure books'.

Locker key, meal card, and visitor badge. Shiny!

I went to the Boston Spa Reading Room today and got my paws on that long-coveted book:D (This isn't the best time for me to go on any day-long excursion really, but the uni's minibus service only runs once a month and I'd be out of Sheffield by the next timeslot...) For first time readers who might be put off by the sheer effort involved, I can assure you that it's a very enjoyable and unique experience - definitely worth the trouble!

Getting on the bus is easy enough. Assuming you've booked a place and not overslept, and know where the Arts Tower is, there's very little chance of missing it. It'll probably be the only vehicle in sight, and definitely the only one with a clipboard-carrying librarian prowling around it. If in doubt, refer to the bottom right image in this collage:

Bottom right pic taken on 1.6.2010 in Tower Court car park.
Top right pic taken on 6.12.2009 outside BL St Pancras.
Others taken on 1.6.2010 at BL Boston Spa.

With an 8:45 early start, one might expect to arrive at Boston Spa by ten - if you don't get lost, that is. Two factors contributed to our delay: 1. the driver was new to the job, and 2. BL Boston Spa is smack in the middle of nowhere. Shitty maps played their part too. Fortunately our tiny party of 6 were in good spirits and didn't complain once during the extra 40 minutes.

BL Boston Spa is a most curious phenomenon. It is unlike any other library that I've been to. Not far from where it stands is the formidable fortress of HM Prison Wetherby, all high walls decked with barbed wire coils. What's this got to do with the library you say? Well when the minibus approached the library compound I couldn't help notice the stark industrial feel of the place: wire fences, squat sprawling buildings, greyish monochromes, a tiny indiscernible entrance. It could've passed for a prison if it weren't for the abundance of trees.

Once you're there everything is simple enough. You register at the reception desk to get a visitor's badge and a locker key. You can only take notebooks, pencils and a mobile phone into the reading room. Oh and laptops, there's free wireless apparently. You pick up your books from a shelf near the reading room entrance, and voilĂ ! You're all set to start reading!

At lunchtime you can buy a meal card and join the hordes of BL employees at their 'restaurant' (glorified cafeteria) for a nice laid-back lunch. The food is tasty, the variety pretty impressive - they've even got a build-your-own-sandwich counter. The biggest surprise costs peanuts!! :O A hearty main course with 'taters and veg plus hot pudding and custard costs a measly £2.20, while a steaming cup of PG tips is 35p! Beats The Common Room any day IMHO.

An incentive to work at BL Boston Spa...

One caveat about the reading room: photocopying is expensive. 20p per sheet and they don't do double-sided copying. If you reckon you'll need to re-read a lot of the stuff, you're probably better off having the document delivered electronically. The bits I needed photocopying were within copyright guidelines (1 short chapter) so I went ahead and did it. The BL use a low-tech version of our uni printing system: you're simply issued a slip of paper stamped with an account number, and asked to type in a password on the reception desk computer as the librarian knowingly looks the other way. The printers are then operated through touch screens pretty much like our own.

At the end of the day, do remember to return your keys and visitor badge to reception. If there's credit left on your meal card the vending machine will round it down to the nearest 20p and return that with your £2 card deposit. Or you could keep it to use next time, if you ever get the urge to visit again;)


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