The British Library is wildly confusing: a glass tower with shelves inside, inside the shelves books, inside the books words, millions, billions of words, spilling out onto the floor, where hopefully someone’s brain will pick them up. Arrows point to the lockers, to coffee, the cloakroom, the newsroom. What is the difference between Humanities 1 and Humanities 2? Papers hang out of books.
Several weeks ago, I had penciled in a few hours there on the muckiest day in London, but failed with my mission to find an archived something, and returned home reader card-less. The snow had shut down schools, shops, and even the reading room registration at the British Library. My paid membership meant nothing.
But today, I have finally made it to the British Library Reading Room. You hand over your life to get in. It starts in the basement. You read the signs. ‘Wait in this line.’ Someone tells you what to do. Now go to the computer. Fill out your information. Now go sit down. Wait for your number like you’re at the DMV. Show me your bank statement. Give me your passport. Now I take a picture of you. So you fix your hair. Go to this website and order something, anything. Now you are overwhelmed with choice. Great, it’s ordered, and you wait 70 minutes. Go to the cloakroom. Take off your clothes. Here, put your $2,000 computer into this plastic bag. No pens please. Congratulations. Now you can enter the reading room.
There are just as many people as there are chairs, and lamps and desk space. It is a quiet audience waiting for a the start of a play. Muffled coughs. Whispered words. This place, though, lacks the nervous excitement that is present before a theatrical performace. Here, we are working. Here, we become bored. Here, we make music with finger taps on a keyboard, the pull of a pencil over paper, white noise. You will not find theatre here (except if you go to section XVII5548.9).
I browse through my archives. Texts from the 1930’s. A murder mystery, a pamphlet, and a non-fiction book, all about the zoo.
Surely they can provide me with inspiration for a creative piece. Despite loving the words and illustrations, I can’t seem to muscle up a story, or anything creative. For my disseration, I am writing the beginning of a fantasy novel. Several of the scenes will take place in the zoo. Therefore, I am sure my research will inspire something in the future. In fact, through ebay, I am now the proud owner of a 1930s copy of Zoo Tales.
“Some people have called him ‘king of beasts.’ I am afraid he is not very brave, and not very clever, but he certainly looks very handsome.”
And these are great big creatures…