Thursday, July 28, 2011

Going to the Library

With driver’s license, passport, and preregistration Reader Number in hand, we all made our way over to the British Library to get our library cards.  Getting a card and looking at a book in this library is SERIOUS BUSINESS.  You have to show two forms of ID, sit to wait for your number to be called, and then meet with someone who asks you questions and takes your picture.  It’s a lot like the DMV.  If you want to look at a book, you need to reserve it ahead of time and look at it in a reading room.  The only thing you can bring into the room with you is a pencil, some paper, and a folder. 

St Pancras Station peeking over The British Library

 The good thing about trying to find a book at the British Library is that the library is required to receive and catalog a copy of every single book that is published in Britain.  So if it has been published here, you will find it.  Not only that, but the British Library contains wonderful Treasures.  They have two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, some copies of The Magna Carta, lyrics drafted by John Lennon, illuminated manuscripts from every corner of the world, some fragments of the new testament written in Greek, and more displayed in their treasures room.  I love to see text that was written by hand centuries ago before the advent of machine printing.  It is amazing how uniform all the letters written by the monks were.  You can detect lines on the paper (or vellum) so I guess they graphed out the page before writing.  Even the handwritten drafts of books from just decades ago are fascinating because we just don’t have hand-writing like that anymore.  That is truly a craft that is dying out.

An interior shot of the library.  Where are the books?
- where cameras can't reach them.

 The high point of my day - when I discovered a connection between my interest in goats and information science (at least historical book science).  As our guide through the treasures of The British Library explained the science of gilding and coloring ancient illuminated pages, he let slip that illuminators would burnish gold and precious ground stones onto the page with goats’ teeth.  Yes, you read right, goats’ teeth.  

Show us your pearly whites, Jolene

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