The British Library: For aspiring misanthropes, it’s a ripe hunting ground

From students to shouters, the library offers a space like no other

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The Independent Online

The British Library is a quirky uncle I’d be lost without.

Those crammed into its sprawling reading rooms are an eclectic bunch: frantic university finalists chewing pencils (pens are banned); frustrated postgrads, hiding behind barricades of obscure theoretical textbooks; woolly-jumper-wearing pensioners, excitedly scouring through family trees. And then there’s the likes of me, journalists with less focus than the average goldfish.

If you’re an aspiring misanthrope, confined spaces with lots of people are always going to be a ripe hunting ground. It’s Who Annoys You Most bingo: the bloke who answers his phone without even a pretence at a whisper; the student with headphones that apparently double up as ghetto-blasters; the duo who loudly wonder why Jen doesn’t just leave Dan, she’s way too good for him and anyway he’s got bad breath; the older bloke who loudly exclaims “Aha!” at every revelation in his quest to uncover his lineage.

The cure? You realise you’re just annoyed at violations of social etiquette, not the noise itself. The real objection is the implied two fingers at the rest of the world. I pop in headphones to block out the background noise: but then I get neurotic, worried my neighbour can hear my occasionally embarrassing library soundtrack. It’s only thankfully rare outbreaks of rudeness against the excellent staff that really grate: the ultimate abuse of power is being unreasonable to people who can’t shout back.

There’s the occasional atmosphere of sexual frustration, of course. Fair enough, really: if some people are devoid of inspiration, working to a deadline, slowly losing the will to live, their eyes are going to wander. As long as it’s not creepy. Two seconds per person – max. In truth, the British Library will top anywhere to study. If you’re ever in Rare Books – away from the madding crowds – you’ll see me slumped over my MacBook, dribbling. I’m just deep in thought, right?