Very soon after starting my MA in Classical Studies with the OU I realised I needed access to a reference library in Greece. It was either that or giving up on the winter sunshine and spring flowers for two years. There was one obvious place, the British School at Athens (BSA). I could apply for a reader’s ticket but I would have to find my own accommodation in Athens; membership would allow me to use the hostel facilities as well, but would I be accepted for membership?
After a couple of e-mails clarifying what use I wanted to make of the facilities I decided to apply. Being used to dealing with universities who saw their students face to face, the application form asked for a more personal academic reference than the OU will supply. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Student Services and in e-mail conversations with current and past tutors, putting together something that met the spirit of the information requested even if it didn’t meet the letter of the requirements. Eventually I received an email telling me I had been accepted for “sporadic” membership of the British School at Athens and my membership card was ready.
The British and American Schools: photo by Liz Drummond
Thus it was, one Monday lunchtime at the end of January, I dragged my heavy case up the hill from Athens’ Evangelismos metro station and rang the bell at the gate of the BSA. Less than an hour later, I had dropped my case in my room and met the librarians who had given me a quick tour, assigned me a seat in the library, and introduced me to Bouboulina, the feisty library cat who is named after a heroine of the Greek resistance to Ottoman rule.
Entering the library is like stepping back in time. The desks are large solid wooden tables with chunks of white marble to use as bookends, the bookshelves reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are windows high up in the walls through which you can catch glimpses of the blue Athenian sky. My assigned seat was in the Penrose room close to the collections dealing with classical Greek language and literature. Other rooms house maps, journals, collections of excavation reports and personal papers, some of which date back to the 1800’s. The opportunities for “serendipitous browsing” are immense but I only had a day and a half there on my first visit, not really long enough to explore the library and all it has to offer.
Library, British School at Athens. Photo from BSA website.
I was uncertain how I would be received, particularly as I was not one of the long-term residents, but I very quickly felt part of the community. I am looking forward to going back before Easter so I can spend more time in the library. I might even see if I can spend a couple of days in the BSA at Knossos to see what inspiration strikes there.
For those who want to see what the BSA is like, including the library, there are lots of photographs and information on the website. Lectures and presentations from resident researchers are also available on the BSA YouTube channel.