Dr Marx would not have approved

services_rr_624x304bThe removal of the British Library from Bloomsbury to St Pancras seems to have ushered in a new, more relaxed, attitude towards the rules governing who can acquire a reader’s card, according to a Guardian article of 2005. In it the Reading Room is described as being crowded with undergraduates, anxious, no doubt, to obtain an advantage over their peers. Under the rules prevailing in 1938, and which are contained in a Guide to the Use of the Reading Room, a copy of which we found recently in a box of ephemera, restrictions which perhaps Karl Marx might have recognised, were doubtless drawn up to limit the number of readers using the famous Rotunda. There is a distinctly schoolmasterly tone to the following advice:

The Reading Room is in fact, as well as in theory, a literary workshop and not a place for recreation, self improvement or reference to books which are obtainable elsewhere…

No person will be admitted for the purpose of preparing for examination, of writing prize essays, or of competing for prizes, unless on special reason being shown; or for the purpose of consulting current directories, racing systems, lists of unclaimed moneys , or similar publications.

‘Racing systems’ and ‘lists of unclaimed moneys’. How redolent of the seedy world of Brighton Rock, which appeared a year later.

There is also a touch of ‘Greeneland’ about the advice offered to those prospective Readers seeking a testimony :

The Trustees cannot accept the recommendations of hotel-keepers or of boarding- house or lodging-house keepers in favour of their lodgers… [R.R.]


3 thoughts on “Dr Marx would not have approved

  1. Roger

    The Reading Room still is crowded with undergraduates – or – rather – it’s crowded with the computers they leave on the desks for hour and hours to reserve them. What’s even more surprising is that nobody steals them.
    I think the restrictions on the old reading room were intended to deter frivolous applicants rather than restrict the reading and use of the dedicated user: the eminent Oulipian Jacques Roubaud used to come over and read English novels in the Reading Room in his summer holiday.
    And – of course – the echo in the new library is nothing like as good.

  2. Jot 101 Post author

    Roger– Many thanks — I guess you have tested the new library’s echo? Btw Robin– Horse racing system checking out was also banned at Colindale (where it might be useful) the BM’s newspaper section when I was last there… probably still is. N

  3. R.M.Healey

    Colindale is now closed, alas. I recall spending hours looking through copies of the Yorkshire Post and the Morning Post for Grigson contributions. On one occasion I was just twenty yards away from being seriously injured when on the way home a lorry hit the low railway bridge near Hendon and spilt its wooden pallets just where I had walked a minute or so earlier.


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