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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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One of the long running debates regarding the British Library reading rooms has resurfaced this week. Upon entering the library this morning I was handed a letter of invitation to the Reader's Committee (or similarly titled initiative); it's self-purported goal, to discuss requirements of readers at the BL that have gone unheeded by management. Several of these items are, indeed, worthy of discussion. Noise from photocopiers and telephones being high on my list of irritations. However, the contentious article is, in my mind, the admission of undergraduates to the BL's reading rooms. On the one hand, yes, it is frustrating to encounter a group on unmotivated, inarticulate users hogging the facilities. Valid concerns have been raised by articles in both The Times and The Guardian. However, excluding undergraduates also allows those within to continue their scorn of undergraduates without challenge; they are not all useless, you know! I have always had a degree of disdain for a large portion of undergraduates, even when I was among them. However, there are a substantial number who genuinely do want to work hard. To suggest that university libraries cater for their "limited reading" needs, is based on the assumption that no undergraduate will ever produce anything of original value outside their prescribed course. Initiatives such as the JRA at Sussex clearly show otherwise. The British Library should allow undergraduates full access to the collections and reading rooms, when the individuals in question can show that their own institutions are unable to provide for them. We should celebrate the fact that there are students motivated enough to want to use the collections at the British Library. What should not happen is that those in the field, today, should become so complacent of their "rights" that they forget those who will be their colleagues, tomorrow.