Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Violation of rules

There has been a silent but deadly combat going on, between myself and a lady who works in the British Library, and today she has won. Unfortunately for me, the seat that I always use (I always sit in the same one, because I have memorized the seat number, which they always ask you when you collect your books) is very near to the bit of the library where she always sits. She walks past my seat whenever she leaves her office. She makes sure she looks carefully, and she comes up to me as often as she feels she needs to, just to check that I'm not doing anything out of order.


[tap on the shoulder] 'Excuse me, is this one of our library books?' [she points at my own book, which I have brought in with me and which is dog-eared and old and has notes scribbled all over it in pencil, and post-it notes visible amongst the pages.]

Me: 'No.' [I am thinking: do you really think I got this book in that state in one day?]

Lady: 'Well, just be careful, because people might think that this IS one of our library books.' [walks away.]

[as I ponder the usefulness of this advice, the reader sitting next to me turns to me and whispers:] 'Don't worry... I didn't think this was one of their library books!!' [we share a smile.]

[repeat above exchange many times, various times of day, on numerous occasions, ad infinitum.]

Another example:

[tap on the shoulder] 'Excuse me, did you just scan that in from one of our books?' [points to the mobile phone in my hand, on which I have been reading 'The Guardian.']

me: 'No! I'm reading The Guardian on my phone!'

Lady: 'Sorry.'

And so on. Variations of the above have happened a few times now [tap on the shoulder, rousing me from the throes of PhD composition/ Guardian reading; accusing finger points at my stuff], not quite enough times to make me flip ('A PhD student has brutally murdered a member of the British Library staff in a Library reading room. Cloud Nine, 19*, has refused to explain her actions...') but certainly enough times for me to start to feel annoyed at this well-meaning do-gooder.

The silly thing is that, all of the times she has bothered me, I was not doing anything wrong. I was not using a pen in the reading room, or (God forbid) talking on my phone. I was not using a sharp implement. I did not have food, drink, water, sweets or gum on my desk. I was not behaving in a way which disturbed others. Literally, nothing. She just comes up to me and looks at my perfectly boring personal possessions and taps me on the shoulder and... annoys me.

Today, she got me. I did something wrong. I had my laptop open in front of me and was writing an email. I also had a hair clip. As I pinned my hair back with the hair clip so it wouldn't be in my face, I switched on my 'Photo Booth' application so I could check my hair. I just really, really needed to check my hair. I needed to see what my hair looked like, you know?... Vanity is never a good thing. In this case, it got me into trouble.

Two minutes later - tap on the shoulder, points at [now blank, camera-free] laptop screen.

'Were you using your webcam? I saw that you were using a webcam.'

And I said 'No' (because by 'using', I understand 'using to capture images', 'using to skype', 'using to take a photo', that sort of thing. I didn't think 'switching on momentarily to check your hair' counted as 'using'. What I should have said was... oh, never mind.)

Anyway, the woman disappeared and returned with the nice security guard from the front desk, who always says hello to me and asks me if I'm having a good day, and I found myself having to tell him (in front of all the other readers) that, far from 'skyping in the reading room', which was what he'd been told I was doing, I had used my laptop as a mirror to check my hair, and he had to tell me (in front of all the other readers) that if I really need to, I can check my hair in the mirrors in the toilets, and that, for this violation of the Rules, he would have to take my card and I would have to have my name written into the BL naughty book for posterity. All the while, a familiar figure stood solemnly somewhere at his shoulder, behind him, but still just in my range of vision. 

She got me. Guilty as charged. She finally got me for 'using a webcam' in the Reading Rooms. 

To all of you British Library users out there: don't use your laptop camera in the Reading Rooms, even if it is to check your outfit or hair. This (and I did not know this) is against the rules. Or: just don't sit in that one seat in the library. Then you can get away with pretty much anything. 

* 19 - not her real age.

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