During the summer in 2015, I visited the British Library (BL) in London to conduct some archival research for my undergraduate dissertation. It was an amazing experience and I would highly recommend a visit.
However, due to the library housing over 170 million items and many extremely rare objects, there are some things you need to consider- but not to worry it is all explained on the British Library webpage. You need to register for a Readers Pass, a process you can start online before you actually go. If you pre-register you can then also use the online system to source and reserve the items you want to view when visiting the reading rooms.
When you attend the BL you will firstly have to complete your registration at the Registration Office. You will have to bring some documents and also have a chat with one of the registration workers to explain your research (again all the details can be found online).
But once this is completed you are free to explore the items of the British Library! I had to put my bag and coat in a locker, and was provided with a clear plastic bag where I could put my notebook and pencil (pens aren’t permitted) to take to my assigned reading room. I had to show my newly acquired Readers Pass to the security guard at the door before I was allowed in. Personally, this made me realise how precious the items are that BL, and made the experience even more valuable. I then went to the main desk, where my requested items were waiting.
When I visited I looked at the private letters and diary entries of Virginia Woolf. I found it fascinating to be viewing Woolf’s archival documents, and being given the opportunity to use such interesting research in my dissertation. I also experienced viewing a microfilm for the first time! The microfilm was given to me in a box… And I had literally had no idea what I was supposed to do with it.
I was surrounded by very important looking people, looking at very precious documents (some were wearing gloves- you may laugh but at the time it was intimidating), and I looked like the only undergraduate in the room. So, when I was presented with this film I did not want to admit I had no clue what to do. I saw a sign above a huge machine with microfilm on so I guessed it was a sure bet…. but you had to input the film into this scary machine yourself! After some fiddling and trying to look like I knew what I was doing, I gave in and finally asked for help. But I needn’t have worried, a member of the library staff was so friendly and helpful, and got me set up with machine straight away.
I would highly recommend anyone interested in literature with to visit the BL, but also to anyone in the general public. The British Library often have exhibitions on, currently there is an Alice in Wonderland Exhibition on until the 17th April 2016 which is open to public viewing.
To close, it was just a great day out. I took a train to London, and immersed myself researching a topic I loved.