Monday, February 13, 2006

University Library

Q: What do the University Library staff and terrorists have in common?

A: You can't negotiate with either.


Q: What is the difference between University Library staff and terrorists?

A: The terrorists sometimes give the impression they might be willing to negotiate.


OK, I admit, it was my fault to return the books late, and to have only £7.50 with me instead of the £7.70 the fines made up. Still, I wasn't too pleased to hear that you have to pay either "all or nothing" of your fines, and as long as you have ANY outstanding fines (be it .20 or 2159.20), you are not allowed to loan any books or renew your loans. So, I needed to run back to the faculty, luckily found the missing .20 in my backpack, run back, and pay the fine, before finally managing to renew the loans. To be fair, they were flexible enough to keep the 7 books I had from various parts of the huge library on the loan desk, so that I didn't have to wait for the day it usually takes them to reshelf those books and then look them up again.

As the keeper of invaluable literary treasures, the UL is very strict about which books can be read where. Also, only a fraction of the books are on the "open stack", and can be taken out of the library. One "patron" is also only allowed 10 books out at once. The most restricted material (apart from the truly old and rare books and manuscripts that you are not allowed to even talk about without a letter of reference co-signed by the vice-chancellor, Queen, and the Archbishop of Canterbury) is delivered on request to the West Room. This material is for example soft-bound journals, pamphlets etc. that are vulnerable for wear and tear.

West Room has a couple of copy machines, for taking copies of the material that can't be taken out of that room. Once I had literally only 3 pages to copy (a short article in a journal), I had come to the UL just for the purpose, and had the material fetched for me. But I wasn't allowed to take the copies, since the person in charge of the room had decided to be absolutely rigid about the shut-down time of those machines 15 minutes before closing time of the room, and the guy using the copy machine before me was truly taking his time... Again, I could have gone there earlier, but since I thought I could do a quick 40 second copy-thingy just about any time, I had left it late. Since she surely saw me waiting there in line for 10 minutes, I would have thought she might have allowed me an extra minute or two, but I guess it wasn't my day.

To be fair, the staff in the UL are really good in finding the stuff you need among the 7 million + items they have in stock. And if they don't have it, they can get it from elsewhere. And they are genuinely helpful if you have an intellectually challenging data-mining operation you need their help for. But when it's about something mundane and boring like photocopying or renewing loans, the statutes start to speak through them, and it's all rules and policy from there on.

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