Feb 032014

Susan Harlan

It’s a terrible thing to say, but I’m bored. I’m bored at the British Library.

So there it is. It seems like I’ve been here forever. I look at my watch: I’ve been here for two hours and eighteen minutes. I figure this means that I can’t leave yet. Two hours and eighteen minutes is not an honest work day.

Two hours and eighteen minutes does not represent a good Protestant work ethic.

When I got here two hours and eighteen minutes ago, I went down to the basement and checked my bag in one of the lockers and placed my laptop, two pencils, a used Kleenex, and my lip balm in a clear plastic BRITISH LIBRARY bag, crumpled from previous employment by a stranger.

Then I went up the escalators, past the huge glass vault of rare books in the middle of the atrium. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Then I had to settle on a reading room. Where to work, where to work? Where will I be most efficient? Where will I get a tremendous amount of work done? Or, rather, where will I be most likely to run into someone I know?

I settle on Rare Books.

My numbered desk is in the middle of the room. My laptop makes an excruciatingly loud Ding! sound when I turn it on, like it is going to shake the very foundation of the building.

I order up some books, but it turns out they’re not what I’m looking for, so I contemplate how long I should wait before I order up another round. I’m concerned. If don’t spend a significant amount of time with these books, won’t the librarian judge me? That would be more than I could bear.

I need to come across as a serious scholar. I decide that I am a bad person and resolve to try to improve myself.

I take my lip balm out of my clear plastic bag. I put on lip balm. Maybe I could go to the bathroom. That would kill some time.

I should work on my book, but I’d really prefer not to. I’d prefer to go to the pub. But I suppose it’s too early in the day to go to the pub. Technically. Although this is London. Something to think about.

I survey the room. Rows and rows of desks. A magnificent room. Just magnificent. Do I recognize anyone? Maybe I will pick out the handsomest man in the room and make up his life story.

Or I could go outside. The sun is out for the first time in days. Maybe I would see Stephen Fry at the coffee stand, as my friend did last week.

Or maybe I could eat a $20 hot lunch in the cafeteria, but then I would probably fall asleep. Treacle and custard for dessert. American libraries never have things like treacle and custard. Or I could go to Pizza Express across the street and order a La Reine or a Fiorentina, or maybe both, and sit and look out the window. Yes, just look at the British Library, which really is such a wonderful place. Just wonderful.

I stare at the little brass light switch at my desk. I glance over at the person sitting next to me. He’s working very hard. Writing things down on a pad. I find him irritating.

This place of majesty, this seat of scholars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this palace of culture, this library of libraries! This little world. But today I can’t seem to bring myself to care. And it’s such a nice day, and I’d like to take a walk. Maybe go watch people come and go from St Pancras. They are all out and about. They are not bored at the British Library.

Or I could go to the gift shop and buy a paper doll of Queen Elizabeth. Or a Shakespeare magnet. Yes, I can always use another Shakespeare magnet. I will do that.
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