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tearful librarians call time in the British Library Reading Room



Last year my wife and I tried to visit the famous British Library
reading room and had bad luck. The same week we visited London the
reading room was closed for inventory reasons. We even tried to
'bribe' the guard to allow us a quick peek into the room. The
following article (Daily Telegraph London) shows that it really
was our last chance to see it.
Ton Cremers


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Last orders as tearful librarians call time in the Reading Room
By Christy Campbell

IT was closing time in the British Library yesterday. Assistants
swept up books and whispered to readers as they had done for decades
- "the Reading Room closes in 15 minutes". But this time it was
different.
At 4.30pm Brian Lang, the library's chief executive, addressed
assembled readers. "I have never before been allowed to use my voice
loudly in this space," he said as Spanish sparkling wine was hauled
in on book crates.
"This is the end of an era," he said, standing on the central desk
under the middle of the dome, which opened in 1857, "a very, very sad
day. I ask everyone here to observe a minute's silence to reflect on
the scholarship and the literature that was made in this room." About
300 readers duly did so, dewy-eyed.
Emotion had been building all day. There was a threat of mutiny on
Friday night, when some readers refused to leave. Now, on this very
last day, readers grumbled as journalists and tourists were led among
them.
A woman librarian was weeping. Some readers took snapshots of their
leathery desks. They suddenly seemed compelled to speak to each
other.
"I used to tell my wife I was going to work - but I came here nearly
every day," said Pol Foti, 68, a Hungarian emigr=E9 and the reader at
seat GG 44 for the past decade. A nearby reader glowered when a mobile
phone rang. Nothing was sacred - this really was the end.
Mike Crump, reader services director, took us inside the cast-iron
stacks. Assistants were crating up books - 12 million of them will
move a mile across London from Bloomsbury to St Pancras over the next
two weeks.
A run of the Monster Book for Tinies, 1924-34, was treated with the
same reverence as leather-bound early texts. "Everything is
important," said Bart Smith, the information director. "Our job is to
conserve everything for future generations."
"It is the power of the collections that draws readers here - it will
draw them to St Pancras," said Mr Crump, who has worked at the
British Library for 20 years.
"Yes, there are ghosts here in the old library, but just wait and
see. Scholars and writers not yet born are going to weave themselves
into the new library."
A fenced-off stack was still full of books under padlock. "Ah yes,
the Private Case," said Mr Crump, "the collections of erotica. That
will move next week in an anonymous van, but you will no longer need a
letter from a bishop in order to consult it."
The first phase of the new library opens on November 24. Most of the
1,300 staff will move there. The dome will open as an "information
centre" for the British Museum in 2000.
We popped out from the director-general's office through a bookcase
in the museum's public galleries, surprising some Japanese tourists.
"I always enjoy that bit," said Mr Crump.
But one elderly reader could not be appeased as he shuffled off.
"Something of me has died today," he said.
Library officials last night revealed that the last book to be
ordered in the reading room was A General View of the Agriculture of
the County of Kent by John Boys, published in 1805.


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