Study Leave Week 14

Working in libraries

Books sourced from the UL

One of the rare treats for an Arts & Humanities academic is to get to spend sustained time in a big research library. Not only do they offer unrivalled access to difficult-to-find books, scores, and other resources, but they also create a particular kind of working environment. The hushed tones, the deferential silence, the frenzied beavering, the glazed overwhelmingness; these are all discernible characteristics of those working in research libraries.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to spend a good few days at the Western Bank Library (University of Sheffield), the University Library (UL) and the Pendlebury Music Library (both University of Cambridge). Each hosts a different set of resources useful to my book research, and to the broader Baudelaire Song Project as a whole. But the most beneficial thing for me about working in a proper research library, and especially the UL, is the happenstance moments that arise – where you come across a book on the shelves housed next to one you were looking for (and found) but didn’t know existed or that you would find useful. I came to the UL with a list of 6 books I needed to consult. I ended up ditching 2 of them as they turned out to be irrelevant to my project after all, but I picked up at least another 12, 2 of which were particularly transformational in reshaping a section of my argument in the chapter I am currently drafting.

I know that there is a time for research, and a time for writing, and that sometimes too much research is a bad thing, but if I’ve learnt anything this week, it’s that nothing beats scouring actual books on actual library shelves in a place as heaving with books as the UL. Would that I could spend a whole week there…

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