Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday at the British Library

At the moment I'm at table 1049 in the Manuscripts Reading Room of the British Library. I came right after opening this morning and went first to Reader Registration to get my reader's card. This process goes very quickly, provided you have all the necessary documentation. For me it was driver's license, passport, and business card. You fill out an online form, review and agree to the regulations for use, and then sit for a picture and the production of your card. The card is good for three years. After registration I went down to the locker room, found a locker for my bag, coat and sweater. It costs a pound for use of the locker, but you get your money back when you open your locker with the key; much like our lockers back in Andersen Library. I grabbed my laptop, pencils and notepad, put them in the BL plastic carrier bag, and headed to the Manuscripts Reading Room. I'd done some research last night so knew what manuscripts I wanted to view. After presenting my card to the attendant near the door I found a table, got set up, and then went to the service desk and requested a couple of application tickets to request the items I wanted to see. Then it was back to my desk, fill out the requests, put them in the metal wicker basket back on the counter, wait for the items and do some additional background research on the web. This meant registering for the BL's free wireless service, another quick and easy procedure.

Here's a description from the BL's manuscript catalog of the first item I looked at:

63596. CASEMENT PETITION PAPERS: correspondence and papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Clement K. Shorter, editor of The Sphere, concerning their petition to the government to reprieve Roger Casement, sentenced to death for high treason, 29 June 1916; 1916. Partly printed. Purchased from David J. Holmes Autographs, Philadelphia, Cat. II, lot 62, 7 Aug. 1985.
Paper; ff. 176. Individual items mounted and bound in dark green morocco with gilt tooling, including Irish emblems, by Rivière, in a cloth slipcase. 288 x 233mm.
1. ff. 2-3. One of twelve privately printed copies of A Petition to the Prime Minister on behalf of Roger Casement by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1916).
2. ff. 4-22. Correspondence between Conan Doyle and Shorter, July 1916, including a draft, 2 July, to Shorter from G. Gavan Duffy, Casement's solicitor; letters to Doyle and Shorter from the Home Office acknowledging receipt of the Petition; and a letter from Shorter on the same subject, 26, 27 July; 2-30 July 1916, n.d.
3. ff. 23-61. Thirty-seven printed petitions, returned to Shorter, signed by supporters, the latter include: William Archer, Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, Will Crooks, John Drinkwater, John Galsworthy, Alice Gomme, Maurice Hewlett, Jerome K. Jerome, John Masefield, H. W. Massingham, C. P. Scott, Ben Tillett, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Israel Zangwill.
4. ff. 62-75. Newscutting from the New York American; 14 March 1915. Printed. Containing Casement's allegation that Britain tried to kidnap him in Norway.
5. ff. 76-176. Eighty-six letters, eighty-four of them to Shorter and two to Conan Doyle, relating to the petition, from supporters and opposers; 1916. The writers include: Alfred Austin, John Burns, Viscount Bryce, Sidney Colvin, Edward Carpenter, J. L. Garvin, Viscount Haldane, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Pinero, Eden Phillpotts, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and W. B. Yeats. Two replies were written copies of the standard letter sent out with the petition by Shorter on 7 July.

I just finished looking at this about a half hour ago. I'm a little concerned about seeing the second manuscript I've requested, one of the Holmes stories, "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter." While working through the Casement manuscript one of the staff members came out to talk to me about my request for the Holmes story. It turns out that this manuscript is a "Select" case that requires a letter of introduction in order to view it. I indicated that I was a curator of rare books at the U of M and asked who would be the person to write on my behalf. Basically, the answer was someone who knows me and could vouch for my character. The staff member indicated that they could sign off on my request as a "one off" but that I would need a letter if I had requests for other such manuscripts. I assured the staff member that this was the only one I was interested in at the moment, so my request could go forward.

That was a few hours ago, however, and I'm now a bit worried that I won't have enough time as I've agreed to meet Kimberly for tea/coffee at about 3:30. I've still got more than an hour, and maybe they'll hold it for me if I have to step out a bit. We'll just have to see. The only other item on my agenda is later, at 5:30, when I'm meeting Andrew and Catherine. Let's see how the afternoon unfolds. More later, but I'll say this for now--its interesting being on the "other side" of the fence as a researcher. The reading room is quite full. It brings back some memories of my undergraduate days when I spent time in the manuscript reading room of the Newberry Library.

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