Another thing nobody ever tells you about life after the Ph.D. (along with the pain you will suffer when you have to return your library books) is that once you graduate, you are exiled from the network of academic resources you have come to rely on, and to which you feel connected as through an intellectual umbilical cord. You no longer have access to an academic library, with a small team of specialised Library Fairies to hunt down that obscure book from 1937 that someone cited in a footnote as peculiarly relevant to your argument. How do you hack not being affiliated to a university, when you are in that strange half-life when you haven’t yet obtained a proper academic job with another university whose library resources you can then use?
I’m in a bit of a special position at the moment, as I’m moving back to the UK at the end of the month. I’ve had to work out how to get hold of academic research resources in New York, but I’ll have to start again from scratch when I get to London. Thankfully, of all the cities in the world to be an independent researcher, New York and London make things pretty easy.
I’m also not quite the abandoned orphan I’m making myself out to be. While I can’t borrow from the Rutgers library system any more (and the NYPL is, frankly, only one subway stop away and thus far easier to get to for reading in situ), I do still have access to their electronic resources. Which means I can still get to the articles available online at JSTOR. This is a bit like the holy of holies for the classics researcher, because JSTOR don’t do subscriptions for individuals. I can also get to L’annee Philologique, the main classics database, and (best of all) to the Rutgers interlibrary loan staff, who will find journal articles that aren’t available on-line and scan them into PDF form for me. The only problem is that I have no idea when my electronic access will be switched off, and neither does anybody else. Apparently the IT service people deactivate my account ‘at some point over the summer’ – so, as you might imagine, I have been frantically sending in as many requests for articles as I can come up with in order to make sure that I take advantage of my access while I still have it.
The big resource for the Orphan Researcher in New York is, of course, the New York Public Library. It is, so I was informed whilst on tour there once, the only library of its kind not to require membership to enter the reading room, although you do need a library card to order materials. The main reading room is in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, which is the one with the iconic lions outside, as well as the children’s library in the basement. (Secret confession – when requesting private reading material to borrow, I have it sent to the children’s library so I can use the Schwarzman Building as my personal lending library. I am such an architecture geek.) There is also a very good performing arts collection up at Lincoln Centre, where I spent a very productive article reading about film when I was pulling together the article on queer theory and classical reception. It’s a completely different environment to the reading room at the Schwarzman – they make you check your bag before you can go in, it’s a much smaller room lit by skylights rather than regular windows, and you have people playing the electric piano at the end of your table, which is quite funky.
London’s options for the rogue classicist are a tiny bit more varied. The obvious place to begin is the British Library, where I will have to register as a reader; this involves explaining to the staff there precisely why I want to access their library and what items I wish to see, so that could be quite interesting, depending on the state of the Stoic Exile article and sundry other things. I will admit that I am a little daunted at having to justify the seriousness of my research, but I’m sure I’m worrying over nothing. They do let you start the process by preregistering online, but I think I shall wait to do that until I’m back in the UK, if only because the paperwork related tothe move is more than enough to keep me busy at the moment.
The other place to go, for the discerning classicist, is the Institute of Classical Studies Library and Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies at Senate House, Malet Street. As a member of the Roman Society, I already have access here – and, in fact, used it to prepare my undergraduate dissertation on carmina as a feminine genre of speech, many many moons ago. I have to say that I’m quite looking forward to coming back to Senate House – I found it a good place to work, and the collection is excellent. So I think I might be unearthing my Roman Society membership card and using the Senate House library instead of braving the challenge of explaining myself at the British Library, at least for the time being…