… is never more important than when visiting archives or reading rooms (which I shall be doing tomorrow, as I have tracked down those elusive periodicals at a library near me YIPPEE).

They ALWAYS have a list of regulations as long as your arm, such as no pens! NO PENS! How old do they think we are??? 12? Pencils only – this is a pain in the arse  as pencil notes are feint by nature and often do not last very long, ensuring that you have to spend time typing up notes or at least inking them in – so it takes twice as long!

You are also not allowed to remove books/magazines, take in drink or food, scan, photocopy or photograph,material due to the vagaries of copyright law (that is a minefield!)

These restrictions make you rethink how you approach the material you are about to view. You have a limited amount of time, often you will have travelled to view the books or archives, and will be booked on a return train. You have limited resources with which to make notes (though now I see phones and laptops are allowed in as long as they are silent). So each moment you have in the reading room is precious. Who knows when you will get back to see the material again, or even if you will get back at all.

Now normally I handwrite my notes because I find the engagement between material, brain, pen and paper somehow acts as a sort of synthesis for the information, allowing me to absorb it more thoroughly than if I were typing (typing means I have to focus on the typing rather than the information – it is less engaged and more distracting than pen and paper) but through necessity I am going to have lug my laptop with me so that I can process notes as efficiently (and legibly ) as possible. I will need to be more discriminating on what I take notes on … making sure I have the wholly relevant material, uncluttered by the irrelevancies. This means I have to read more carefully, and with more focus… not an easy task for someone as easily distracted as me. Oh the pressure …

Then there is the long journey (3hours return), the uphill walk from train station to Library, the heavy bag (laptops and cameras do not make light travelling companions), the security process, the finding a comfortable seat in an unfamiliar working environment, the expense (well if I made sardines where would I sit to eat them!) and on top of all that having to work in a totally different way to that which I am habituated …  ….

Library – Fingask Castle – by me!

Given all the problems you would think I would dread these visits .. but no! They are like nectar to an academic soul.The mere scent of a reading room is enough to flare my nostrils in anticipation. The touch of a crinkled page, the musty smell of a decrepit journal, the audible ‘hush’ of the other readers is thrilling and inspiring and surprisingly means you work far more effectively than anywhere else – and without the guilt of a pile of washing staring at you from the hallway, or a school phoning to tell you your child is unwell usually when there is deck all wrong with them or you need to get the casserole on for supper. It is indescribably wonderful to be able to think in solitude and without the day to day distractions of domestic life. Bliss!


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