Stephanie Burgis
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The Discreet Charm of The B.L....
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So, yesterday I reached the pinnacle of my academic career: I got a photo-ID Reader's Pass at the British Library. In pale, elegant type, it reads: The British Library: Researching the World's Knowledge. I tried very hard not to act too un-coolly giggly when they handed it to me. I wanted to wave it around and dance. And it's good through 2009!!!!! I can already tell that I'm going to need to exercise a lot of restraint. When I walked into the Rare Books and Music room, the first thing I saw was: "The Burney Collection: London Newspapers Through 1801". I sat down at a study desk (waiting for the little individual desk light to glow red, meaning that my musical scores were ready), and saw that the Brontes' notebooks were also available. And the letters of various sixteenth-century kings and queens. And illuminated manuscripts. And Jane Austen's memorabilia. And and and and-----!

If I actually lived in London, instead of having to take (and, worse, pay for) a 2-1/2 hour train trip to get there, I might make it my life's goal to check out everything! Just touching the 18th-century score (with blessedly legible handwriting) felt amazing. I stroked my fingers lightly across it, trying not to leave any grease, overwhelmed by the experience of touching handwriting someone had left two hundred and thirty years ago.

When I got back that night, burbling, Patrick asked: "Did you spread all the old manuscripts out and just roll in them?" God, he knows me so well. But I didn't. I would have been shot. The British Librarians keep a Very Close Eye on those who are working with old scores. Every time I lifted up my pencil to make a note in my notebook, I was afraid that they would assume the worst, take a flying leap across the desk to stop me from Vandalizing History, and throw me down to the floor while helicopters brought armed police. It would have seemed quite possible.

Nevertheless. It was awesome. Even the fact that my Red Light turned out to be nonfunctional (after three hours, I went up to the desk and asked, "Are my scores ready yet?" and they said, "Yes, didn't your light go off?" Aaargh!) did not ruin my afternoon. It just made me work Very Hard for the last hour of it, as I scrambled to get three hours' worth of work done between 5:20 and 6:15. And I walked out with my official Reader's Pass tingling in my pocket, feeling very smug.

God, I am a nerd.

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