Why I pay the subscription

I am sitting in the reading room of the London Library, a place to which I often retreat when I have an afternoon in London. The room where laptops are encouraged is lined with reference works in various languages, and when I looked to my right I saw that I was next to a 24 volume biographical dictionary of notable Swedes, published from 1857 onwards. Before that is a five volume biographical dictionary in Dutch. I wouldn’t like to make a comparison between the self-iportance of the two countries based on that: the dutch volumes are very much larger. But this is the sort of wonderfully arcane resource that makes actual liraries worthwhile. No one is ever going to scan in those things or put them on the net.

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4 Responses to Why I pay the subscription

  1. Nick says:

    I appreciate that this is neither of these works but it very much depends on what library your book is in. For example this Biographical dictionary (in english of course) from the 1850’s is disturbingly easy to find. Not that I dispute your core premise too much but ‘never’ is an awfully definite word.

  2. Bill Thompson says:

    “No one is ever going to scan in those things or put them on the net”… I was lucky enough to be shown around the British Library’s digitisation project this week, admiring the rather wonderful scanning engines and the care with which the whole thing is being carried out. They were just about to scan a two-volume history of the Turf which seemed to consist mostly of prices paid for horses throughout the 19th century – I think they’ll get round to biographical dictionaries faster than you think.

  3. acb says:

    Well, if and when that ever happens I will be paying upwards of £300 a year for a place to sit and not have coffee in central London …

  4. If I lived in London, I’d probably pony up the three hundred nicker just to have a quiet place to retreat in order to be able to read, write, and think. Those are valuable things in and of themselves, and libraries continue to provide them. I’m certain that the London Library will continue to provide wonderful arcana, whether in the form of dead trees, or pixels, for many years.

    (One of the founders of the London Library, Thomas Carlyle, was a horrible racist, and I’d join just for the pleasure of knowing that my membership would be offensive to him.)

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