My lovely classmate Olivia enjoys tea and scones in the British Library Café in true London fashion.

My lovely classmate Olivia enjoys tea and scones in the British Library Café in true London fashion.

It’s difficult for me to fully express how excited I get about going to a library. This is a sentence that is probably rarely said by people who aren’t studying literature but I can vouch to the world that it is sincere. I could go on for pages about why libraries are magical and why everyone should appreciate them but I have limited space before your attention wanders away and eyes glaze over. Besides, I already did that once while writing this post and had to spend an agonizing 20 minutes hitting the backspace key once I’d realized that I may have gotten a little overzealous. So the condensed version is this: There are books in libraries.

I promise the original version was much more elegant.

Visiting the British Library was easily one of the most memorable experiences of my time in London. The building is an architectural wonderland featuring incredible book collections within and hiding countless more in the stacks that reside beneath the library proper. Upon entering, I felt like I should be dropping breadcrumbs to follow back, but I got the impression that the janitors would frown upon that.

There are so many misconceptions in America (or everywhere rather) about what a library actually is. Most people think of shushing and dust and old ladies in buns when there is so much more to it! For instance, some visiting the British Library would be shocked to find that it is not a library that lends books out. The British Library is a research library; people go there to learn about something specific, order a relevant book from the stacks to a reading desk, do the research, and then send the book back to it’s proper place. During my time in London, I met three people who were in the city specifically to study at this basically bottomless pool of knowledge. Further contrary to how many view the modern library, it is also a social place. There was a darling café, a restaurant and numerous nooks and crannies intended for group conversation spread throughout the building. People were flowing in and out of the doors constantly to visit the exhibitions, reading rooms and archived collections.

We took an introductory course to online research during our first visit during which I was briefly given an access card to the electronically sealed doors of the Library. Though I just borrowed it to visit the restroom (don’t worry the restroom wasn’t locked, just the entrance back to the classroom was) for that short time I felt a little drunk with power. I had access to basically any information in the world! At least that’s how I felt– for all I know she gave me a card that lets you go to the classrooms and one additional broom closet. But for that short walk between the restroom and my class I thought to myself, “This is what a library is.” It’s a place where you can instantly erase the distance between yourself and a philosopher who lived 150 years before you, a place where you can look at the original manuscript of a book that your mother read to you as a child and a place where curiosity is always encouraged and often rewarded. Giving that little keycard back was a lot harder than it should have been. Even if you aren’t a book-lover, (and if you aren’t I’d like to have a little chat with you) I’d suggest giving the British Library a look if you ever find yourself in London. There is just something about a place where everyone is working towards the single, universal goal of understanding something new that makes you feel good about being a human.

Man, I just really love libraries.

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Sophie Kaplan

Sophie graduated in 2014 with BA degrees in English Literature and Global Studies with a minor in Japanese Studies. Her interests include playing video games, cooking, studying Japanese language and culture and traveling. Sophie is originally from Northfield, MN.

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