Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The internet and the library

There's a lovely story here about The British Library wi-fi accidentally blocking Hamlet. Security experts and free speech people are quoted saying that this proves that attempts to block, filter and restrict the internet are useless.

I'm just remembering the mid-90s, when the World Wide Web was new and shiny, and it turned up on 3 terminals in the University library. I was at first baffled by this Information Superhighway. It took me a while to work out where the start of it was (why was the index called Yahoo?).

This being a library, my browsing was furtive and circumspect. I didn't even dream that it would one day be an unlimited source of breasts. I was just terrified that someone would catch me cheating as I used the search tool to find all of the references to "satire" in Horace's Art of Poetry. Surely, I thought, I could get into trouble for not actually reading a book?

No librarian came over and shushed me. I was lucky. So I became more adventurous. I found a web page about The Avengers. Amazed, I printed it out, along with a list of quotes from Press Gang. I didn't print out the Star Trek web pages. There were just too many of them - over a hundred. And anyway, they were organised in the format of a space ship, and each room needed to be explored. It was almost Virtual Reality.

One day, I was even able to look at a JPEG of Mrs Peel, right there on my screen. I was amazed. Even more so when I found the full script for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I maxxed out my account printing that rare treasure off (in case it vanished, or I couldn't find it again - those Uniform Resource Locators were sometimes very long and took ages to copy down, and sometimes I couldn't read my handwriting correctly).

I started to look at the WWW almost every time I visited the library. Nearly daily did I type into the Yahoo a search term with trembling fingers - of course, you didn't have to search. Yahoo also handily had about a dozen categories and subcategories, so you could find the page you wanted just by a lot of clicking (Entertainment... Television... The Avengers). The internet seemed very neatly organised, if you asked me.

And still no-one told me off. I knew I was doing wrong. Because I was in a library and looking up information for the sheer fun of it.

One day, of course, I got caught. I was staring at a list of ISBN numbers for Target Doctor Who books. I heard a tutting sound over my shoulder. It was my tutor. "Dear me," he said, "How embarrassing."

From that day on, I only ever used the internet for research. Well, until they invented cats.

No comments: