Heading to The British Library in Wetherby

Old tomes standing on shelf

Pre-lockdown I’d happily written about my experience of heading to the British Library in Wetherby. Though it ended up being a single trip with no further possibilities as coronavirus took over the world, it ended up being a memorable trip that I’m sure I will repeat in the future. 

I’ve thought about when and if I should publish this piece. In the middle of lockdown I decided ‘better not’. Not only because I was still managing to cope with the restrictions myself, but also because I felt it would only make me and potentially others crave a trip as such more. 

So I’ve held back, but now, even though I’m still mostly at home, I feel comfortable enough sharing my experience of heading to the British Library in Wetherby last February, as truthfully… it is quite the place. 

Visiting The British Library in Wetherby

Bookcase with books and bright lightMe oh my, what an experience it was visiting The British Library. Living in Yorkshire I had expected there was only one single location for The British Library. In London. But, after doing some research, I discovered there was one right around the corner.

And quite an interesting one too.

The British Library in Wetherby is completely different from the public British Library in London. First of all, don’t expect it to be anywhere near the city centre. Also, don’t expect it to be easily accessible.

As I do not own a car, I took a bus to the beautiful Wetherby and got out at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Google Maps guided me over several roads, nothing but grass and trees to my left and right.

Suddenly I turn this one corner and – bam! – a huge building meets my vision. A few paces down I notice a sign that reads ‘The British Library’.

Keeping books safe and secure in the British Library

Now me and my little backpack walk over onto the property and I’m greeted by a security guard. A very friendly security guard, but a security guard indeed. If he could have my name. Well, sure thing. It’s Marieke.

With an e.

For Echo.

A k.

Yes, for kilo.

And another e.

No, not an a.

‘I’m Dutch,’ I finally mumble.

When he finally managed my name he pointed me to a line drawn on the asphalt. Follow that one.

So, I did. Down a hill, up a hill, until I see this small building, where – upon my entry – a receptionist greets me.

No access without a reader’s pass. I explain to her I applied for one online and had to come here to officially register.

So, I’d expected to have to show my proof of address and my ID and I’d be good to go, but things are just a bit more official here. It truly makes you feel like quite the scholar. ‘No that’s fine,’ she tells me and rings a colleague to help me register at The British Library. He has to come from ‘upstairs’.

A lovely gentleman comes down, takes me to a room for registration, lets me fill out a short online form, takes a picture of me, prints my pass and voila, I’m registered!

Library books in bookcaseBut the thing is he didn’t just do that, he was genuinely interested in why I was looking for reference books in The British Library. I told him I was a writer and needed some reference books for a novel I was writing. I’d expected this would put him off. Surely he had hoped that I was a lecturer or well-known scholar of some sort. But no, it fascinated him.

It wasn’t just him either. When I finally managed to enter the Reading Room (no pens or water bottles allowed), I was greeted by yet another lovely employee and was handed the reference book I had ordered. I’m telling you, with the security guard, the official way of registering at this library, the CCTV… You damn well take care of the book you’re handed.

I sat down and got to work, making notes and finally finding the pieces of information I direly needed.

A Great Place to Write and Read

Now, the big geek that I am, this really was quite the experience for me. The entire time there I felt so incredibly lucky and honoured to be there; to hold this old book in my hands and study the treasure of information inside.

In peace and quiet.

No crying children.

No annoying tunes from phones.

Just like me these were people studying what they had requested. There were people looking at large maps, carefully turning the corners of these beautiful old tomes. There were people behind computers, accessing what is only available to those studying in The Reading Room. There was even a gentleman drawing.

It was wonderful, just being at this site with such a large collection hidden behind doors, protected from the outside elements. In truth, I even found it refreshing to see people actually be gentle with books from a library rather than eat a bag of crisps over it as I’m sure many do when they borrow from the Central Library.

In any case, if you live in Yorkshire and are looking for a great place to find reference books on whatever you are writing on, know that there’s The British Library. And it truly is quite the experience!

Note: I wish so badly I had taken the time to make some pictures of the British Library. For some reason my brain wasn’t with me that day and I didn’t, meaning the images in this post… yeah, purely decorative. Then again, you’re a quick Google away from finding out what the British Library in the north looks like. Don’t expect a beautiful Beauty and the Beast-esque library though! Or you could go ahead and plan a visit yourself. The last I’ve heard they’re back and open for business from 1 September!

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