Although there are 1,480 seats in the library, the author Christopher Hawtree was last week forced to perch on a windowsill while the historians Lady Antonia Fraser and Claire Tomalin have swapped horror stories of interminable queues. Library users complain that the line to enter the new building in St Pancras, central London, has recently been extending across its enormous courtyard.In The Guardian, however, Stuart Jeffries argues that things might not have been much better in the past.
Speaking to The Times yesterday, Lady Antonia said: “I had to queue for 20 minutes to get in, in freezing weather. Then I queued to leave my coat for 20 minutes [at the compulsory check-in]. Then half an hour to get my books and another 15 minutes to get my coat. I’m told it’s due to students having access now. Why can’t they go to their university libraries?”
Novelist AS Byatt recalls working at the library in the British Museum, which housed part of the collection until 1997. "In the afternoon, there was no oxygen. Everyone fell asleep. It was the haunt of mad old women. Angus Wilson [novelist and superintendent of the reading room] once told a woman that it was forbidden to eat oranges. 'Mr Wilson,' she replied, 'I'm not eating oranges. I'm squeezing them into the books.'"