Because of all the attention this post is getting, I ought to point out that I was not intending to disclose some outrageous Orwellian conspiracy, merely incompetence and inertia. I wrote the post because of 1) The amusing absurdity of the greatest work of British literature being blocked by the British Library. 2) The evident silliness of filtering systems, particularly one that blocks mit.edu but not facebook. 3) The frustration of dealing with institutions that disown their own Internet provider. 4) The miserable truth that over the last couple of years the failures of the BL's wifi - whether broken, slow or filtered - has forced researchers to choose, reluctantly, between books and the Internet.
On Monday, I was sitting in the British Library frantically trying to write my new book in a shturmovshchina. I had to quickly check a particular line in Hamlet, so I Googled Hamlet MIT, because the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has put the entire works of Shakespeare up on the Internet. (It takes 70 mins to order a physical book). I clicked on the link and...
A message came up from the British Library telling me that access to site was blocked due to "violent content".
Now, Hamlet is a violent play. I see that. When the curtain comes down there's a lot of bodies on the boards. But...
I tried it again. It told me that my attempts to access this violent content were being logged.
I took my computer over to the information desk, and after I had explained to them what MIT stood for (really), they called the IT department and told them about the webpage that I had been blocked from. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html
They had to spell out Shakespeare letter by letter. Really. Ess. Aitch. Ay. Kay...
I asked them if they were surprised that Hamlet was now banned in the British Library. They shrugged. I asked them how it was that I could still access youtube, facebook and twitter. I asked why the girl at the next desk to me had been able to spend the last half hour on Guardian Soulmates, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's website was banned. They shrugged.
I asked if they saw the problem, perhaps just the symbolism, of Hamlet being banned in the British Library. They shrugged.
The IT department said there was nothing to be done, as it was only the British Library's wifi service that was blocking Hamlet, and the British Library's wifi service, they seemed sure, had nothing to do with the British Library. They were merely ships that passed in the night. Children crying to each other from either bank of an uncrossable river.
'But,' I said. It's one of those points where you just want somebody to understand the central point. 'The British Library has banned Hamlet for being too violent.'
And the lady behind the desk nodded and smiled.
It's one of those points where I don't know whether they're insane, or if it's me. Maybe Hamlet should be banned. I wrote an angry e-mail, and this morning I got one back saying they're looking into it. But maybe I should give all this up and get a job as a lighthouse keeper. But I fear I'd still have those dreams, those dreams about that man with poison sword and the people fighting in the grave and the venom being poured down my throat. O God! God!
UPDATE: The British Library has just tweeted to say that Hamlet is now unbanned.
Ess Aitch Ay Kay Eee Ess Pee Eee Ay Ar Eee
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