July 12: Researching at the British Library

After touring the British Library and seeing how amazing it is, I was super excited to have the opportunity to research there. Since our research topics had to be UK related, I thought that Oscar Wilde’s life and literary history would be great to research. I’ve read The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many of his epigrams. He was so witty and fascinating that I wanted to know more about him and his works. He is an Irish writer who lived and wrote mainly in England, so in the British Isles they obviously have more rare, old, and specific materials relating to him. I was intrigued to see what the difference is between the Irish and English libraries’ collections of his. After seeing the British collection of his, I am interested to explore the Irish National Library and see what they have.

The British Library did not disappoint. They had a lot of items relating to Oscar Wilde. I was looking for items that seemed unique to the British Library, and I found a decent amount. While searching their OPAC, I came across some of his lesser known works (at least to me) like The Fisherman and His Soul and Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young. I also read a bit of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which I had only heard about before but never read. They also had some items that I had never run across before, such as a pamphlet called Mr. Oscar Wilde’s Lectures from 1883. It discusses his speaking tour across America and press reviews of it. They also had a very compelling pamphlet Children in Prison and Other Cruelties of Prison Life that is basically a really long letter from Wilde to the editor of the Daily Chronicle which was published in 1898. These were all published in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Most of the items had a one of ___ amount in the book, which made it seem instantly more special because it was a limited edition. It didn’t hurt that the books were all beautifully decorated in that ornate turn of the century style.

To get to these items, I had to get a British Library reader card. It was a fairly simple process that just required me to have a legitimate need to use the library (which I did and do), have proof of address accompanied with a picture (passport), and have specific items in mind that I wanted to look at. I got my card, which was complete with a terrible picture of me. I had reserved these items easily before I fully had my card, when all I had done was the pre-application part. I loved that they made it so simple to reserve items and get a reader’s card.

Since all of the items were older they were mostly in the manuscript or rare books room. The books had to be reserved and sent to a specific room, where they could be viewed. I couldn’t get a picture of the reading rooms, but from the outside it looks similar to this:

It's the Map Reading Room, but it looks basically the same from the outside.

It’s the Map Reading Room, but it looks basically the same from the outside.

It was a peaceful environment that was one of the better study / research places I’ve seen. One vital component that not all libraries get right is the chair comfiness level. They had great chairs and desks that were super comfortable. When you’re going to be sitting in the same spot for a while, being comfortable is pretty important. The British Library definitely got that one small (important!) detail right.

After a long afternoon of researching, I came out to see the King’s Library area with lots of people sitting and doing work.

The lobby / King's Library / work area.

The lobby / King’s Library / work area.

I found a lot of useful Oscar Wilde information, in addition to finding the British Library to be an exemplary research library with very comfy chairs!


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