London, England

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not a lending library...

The British Library is not a lending library.  So, out of the 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, and 3 million sound recordings, a Reader Pass Card holder can check out none of them.

"Wait a minute," you think, "What good is that?"  In the United States, library patrons regularly complain when they cannot check out a specific volume because it is classified as reference.  This policy would be astounding to them and it would cause librarians and patrons alike to reconsider policies regarding library patronage.

Let's look at a few advantages to the system at the British Library:
1. Rarely do books just disappear from the shelves, so less money is spent on purchasing replacements.
2. Since books and resources are under the watchful eyes of librarians, the collections do not end up as damaged as they would if checked out and taken home.
3. Books and materials are easy to locate and time is not lost searching for a volume that was reshelved incorrectly by well-meaning patrons.
4. Materials are nearly always available a short time after they are requested;  no waiting around for three or six weeks for books to be returned.
5. Librarians have more time to spend aiding patrons, since they are not sorting through piles of returned books and tracking late notices.

The system must work for research libraries, both the British Library and the Bodlien Library have used it for years (centuries in the case of the Bodlien).  That does not mean there are no libraries to borrow books from in England.  On the contrary, there are and, as illustrated by a classmate, Londoners are readers.  Check out her story for more info...

Some other interesting policies...
1. No pen or ink can be used in the reading rooms;  only pencils and laptops are permitted for note-taking.
2. Cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited.
3. Backpacks cannot be brought into a reading room.  There are lockers on site for storage.
4. Coats and umbrellas must be checked into the coat room.
5. All other belongings go into a clear bag.

When you consider that the British Library collection includes original works by Bronte, da Vinci, Beethoven, Lewis Carroll, AA Milne, a Gutenberg bible, and a plethora of first editions, the rules to protect these priceless works make sense, but the patron must go prepared.  

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