LRB, BCL, BRB–at the British Library

There is an old man seated between two youngsters in the second row of tables. The students look mildly uncomfortable when the man plonks himself down between them but the action appears to be forgiven when he opens his newspaper in the way that all old men do, holding it at an arm’s distance from his face, the way all old men do.

A quick walk through the five bookcases in the library reveal a number of romance novels; the kind that one would leave behind when moving from one city to another, painfully aware of one’s baggage limit and back problems. These novels look like they know they don’t belong in a Serious Library, as if they remember very clearly how they were slipped into the shelves when no one was paying attention.

The bookcase closest to the entrance of the library is dedicated to books on ‘English Language Teaching’. It contains, amongst other things, a number of Scholastic editions, grammar books, and How To books. There is something reassuring about this bookcase – all the works are slim and packed neatly into the shelves, giving an impression of light, practical learning. A young woman walks up to the bookcase and stands before it for a minute or two. Finally, she selects the Scholastic edition of Robinson Crusoe, and I wonder if she teaches a fifth standard class, whether she will insist that they remember who said exactly what to exactly whom in the chaos of getting from ship to island mid-storm.

A lone copy of the London Review of Books from June 2017 sits by a plump pile of the Times Literary Supplement. A review of Jane and D’Arcy makes up its first article and I realise that I cannot remember the last time I read a review in a print publication. I find myself immediately looking for contending reviews, for comments, for GoodReads’ trusty quotes. But there are none, and I must make do with the author’s sole point of view and the one picture of the book sitting in the bottom-right corner of the page.

There is a mysterious shelf in the first bookcase, titled, ‘Out of Use for Selling.’ It is empty, almost purposely so, as if one is being told that one ought to consider some deeper, philosophical meaning behind its name and emptiness. This shelf is tucked away amongst shelves containing books for children. There are no children at the library on a Tuesday evening at five o’clock. I am tempted to sit on one of the squishy green cushions in the kids’ area, but a British man from behind a glass window looks at me at the exact moment I have this thought, as if he has read my mind.

A screen meant for viewing the library’s online catalogue is carefully avoided by all the library-goers. A girl who looks like she must be fifteen years old or so is the only one to walk up to it. She has a perplexed but determined expression on her face – she knows that she has ventured where no one else has dared to – but it soon turns irritated and she stomps off. The old man lowers his newspaper for a brief moment, smiles a secret smile, continues reading.

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Zenisha Gonsalves

Editor at The Open Dosa

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