Silence in the Library

Normally I am much too scared to work in the library. I’m a fidgeter and a hiccuper and normally so much as a slightly-louder-than-average inhalation can result in glares of displeasure at mildest to absolute disgust at worst. However, this week I have decided to brave it.

I realised that the light in my room was simply not good enough and I was not going to be able to stay awake to write my essay (the big one about Schumann, not sure if I’ve mentioned it here or not yet). I took the plunge and five days later I am over the initial cold-water shock and would almost go as far as to say I have fully established myself as a valid library-user. 

First I’ll explain a little bit about the libraries here, and try not to get too overexcited. Every college at Oxford has it’s own library, as does each faculty or department. So for me that means there is Magdalen Library and the Music Faculty library, although should I need or want to I could use many others. However, the big cheese is the Bodleian library. It’s almost as much as a phenomenon as an actual physical library. It quite literally has all the books. ALL THE BOOKS. Did you hear that? ALL THE BOOKS! Ok, this is not strictly true, as there are some foreign language books it does not have and there is one George Crumb score that I know it does not have but by law it can seize any and every book published under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act Thing. It more specifically applies to books published within the UK since 1911 or something. You can read about it on wikipedia, I’ll spare you the details here, but I will answer the big question on everyone’s lips which is that yes, it does have The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Anyway, as you can imagine such a library would be absolutely HUGE! The shelves would need to grow by roughly two miles a year to cater for this which obviously in a very old building in the centre of Oxford isn’t very plausible. This means there is a pretty cool system whereby some books are actually in the library in Oxford (well, quite a lot by normal standards, but not in relation to ALL THE BOOKS EVER) and the rest are kept in storage in Swindon. When you need a book which is in the warehouse you request it online and a couple of vans a day full of the books come and deliver them to the Bod for your perusal. There is one minor inconvenience, although it feels unfair to complain about ‘inconvenience’ when you have potential access to ALL THE BOOKS EVER, which is that you can’t actually take the books out of the library. Before moving on I will also mention the key piece of information which is how this relates to Harry Potter. The main music reading room is the ‘Duke Humphrey’s’ which was actually genuinely totally used to film Harry Potter. I’m just not going to write about how exciting this right now otherwise I’ll just get obscenely carried away. Suffice to say I’ll be mighty disappointed in myself if I haven’t dressed up in full Hogwarts gear and gone there to take loads of photos of myself by the end of my degree.

Anyway, the main library which I’m talking about now is the college library which has three floors. The top floor is very Hogwartsy, the ground floor is fairly non-exciting, probably most like your average local library (although I guess that depends where you live), and if you descend to the basement the decor gets even more minimal with some stylish peeling ex-whitewashed walls. The basements do have rolling stacks though which is pretty damn exciting and to be honest I can’t believe that they haven’t featured in some sort of indie horror film yet. You could definitely squish someone in there. Anyway, I’ll keep it light!

I’m in the basement at the moment as very few people work here so my mysterious hiccupping noises (also known as hiccups) will disturb as few people as possible. I must say, nonetheless it is a fairly hostile environment even if my diaphragm isn’t regularly going into spasms with noisy consequences. The past two days/nights/etc I have been here with a few other people, none of whom I know, and none of whom I have spoken to. I can’t help but thinking we should really do some sort of ice-breaker, but I just feel like that wouldn’t really be appreciated. Maybe in third year… I suppose people do seem to be concentrating pretty hard, heads down either working or slammed on the desk in despair. I have genuinely been wondering how long it would take anyone to notice if I did just take my top off and carried on typing and reading as I am now. Furthermore, I wonder if anyone would actually say anything. In the spirit of Birtishness and strange convoluted library etiquette I really doubt anyone would actually even say or do anything if I did. Maybe in third year. Although probably not. I’ll probably have been kicked up by then for hiccuping too loudly and trying to instigate socially cohesive activities. 

Anyway, I suppose I ought to get on! If you do have any more questions about the libraries in Oxford, sensible or silly, in fact especially silly, then please do ask!


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