It's 9.40am and I am sitting in a kind of red metal and glass hut on the piazza of the British Library, sheltering from the grey cold and bracing myself to enter the library itself. The hut is called The Last Word and is a café that dispenses myriad hot drinks, cold drinks and pastries to people like me, only the other customers look markedly less excited than I feel. They look positively blasé in fact, as if they neither know nor care that they are imbibing lattes and hot chocolates on the grounds of the very institution that provided Karl Marx with the material for Das Kapital. Charles Dickens, I'm sure, researched here, and thousands of others, famous, infamous and known only to their mothers, have been inspired here. As I chew sticky white icing off the tips of my forefinger and thumb I marvel at the nonchalance of my fellow patrons: have they practised in the mirror before coming out? Or are they just people who come here everyday to work, writers and researchers, who have simply got used to the place? Am I the only one here who is finally realising a long held dream? Just a short step away the repository of the nations knowledge lies. Everything that has ever been published in Britain, and much besides, is held here. The ghosts of our collective intellect reside here and once I've finished my frothy coffee and disappointing Danish I'm off to introduce myself to a few.
11Am: I am now a registered reading room user with a credit-card style pass complete with photograph. I have a 'how to' leaflet to read before I can use the reading rooms so have come to the (internal) café for a cup of tea. The place is humming with literary voices. I read the rules and find before I enter the reading rooms I must first dump my bag (too big), pens (dangerous to the collection), my half eaten minty Aero (ditto) and my coat (reason unspecified). I can take a notebook and pencils with me, a laptop if I had one, my phone if it's silenced, and in the locker room will find a clear plastic bag in which to carry them.
I also learn from the leaflet that the walls of the reading rooms will not be lined with great tomes as I had hitherto imagined because the books are all kept in the basement (some even off-site) and have to be ordered via computer. The British Library, it seems, is a kind of bibliographic Argos. This means I'll have to know what I'm looking for which I don't, I was hoping to browse: to feel and sniff and discover. Instead I will have to trawl through lists on a database and whatever I choose to look at could take up to forty eight hours to arrive, I only have five left! Better go and find those lockers.
4PM: I am back in The Last Word with a cup of tea. My first day as a British Library user is over. I now know the whereabouts of all the loos, the cloakroom, the locker room, have become quite familiar with Humanities 1, and even have my favourite route from there to the other facilities: a back staircase out of the way of the general public. I have searched the catalogue but have not held a single book in my hands. It took me so long to work out how to use the 'Argos' system that by the time I'd found something I thought I'd like to see I didn't have the seventy minutes left it would take to get it. So I wandered off to the exhibition rooms and saw Breaking The Rules, an exhibition of literary Avant Garde art, in my last hour, clutching my 'reader's room user' clear plastic bag like a badge of honour.