Yesterday I had a meeting at the British Library. I was expecting a sit-down in a side office. Instead, I was conveyed down into the guts of the building.
It has several sub-basement levels, not all of which are accessible on all the lift shafts. The ceilings are ribboned with conveyor belts, which transport materials from all over the building to the reading and listening rooms in the public library. The red trays on the conveyor travel at about a mile an hour — it can take forty-five minutes to transport any one requested article — because some of the Library’s materials are too fragile to survive any faster movement.
In a sealed room sits a signed recording of James Joyce reading from ULYSSES, preserved in conditions approaching that of Mars.
I saw twenty-inch vinyl records made for the armed forces by NBC, handled Edison wax cylinders, and met an engineer trying to pull a digital transfer off a 78 made out of gelatin and glass. Great marches of travelling racks full of music, scripts, radio capture and field recording. It’s only being there that drives home that they keep everything.
The cultural breath of the whole country, and every form of culture that enters it — it all goes here.
I didn’t want to leave. It was like living in the heart of perfect Albion for a moment.
(originally written 28 Oct 2015, recovered from morning.computer)