We want to encourage as many members of rs21 (and others!) as possible to write – anything from short reviews to long pieces. If you’re going to write, you may need access to books, magazines, academic periodicals and so on. Of course, you can buy books. But the book you want may be out of print, and you probably can’t afford to buy everything you want to read. Here we make some suggestions, but we also encourage people to ask for help in the rs21 facebook groups. Getting hold of the books you need is a problem for all of us, so we should share knowledge and access to things.
Marx writes that “the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class.” One reason for that is that the ruling class are brought up to be confident that they can express their ideas, for example by writing articles and books: working class kids are taught exactly the opposite. Inevitably, we all internalise this to some extent. It can be intimidating to think of turning up at a big institution’s library. You could take things in stages by sending an email in advance, or you could go with a friend. Also, remember that rs21 has members who use the libraries described above: they can answer your questions and support you in getting access.
Finally, use any contacts you have. Ask friends and other rs21 members who are students, graduates, lecturers or librarians for advice and help getting access to stuff. If you know people who write articles or books, ask them where they do research and how they access the resources they need.
Buying older books second-hand
You can get cheap second-hand copies of lots of books. Search for your book on www.abebooks.co.uk, the British branch of a global network of second-hand bookstores. For example, at the moment Verso’s reprint of Sheila Rowbotham’s Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World costs £9.99. You can buy a copy of the 1973 Penguin edition through Abebooks for £2.59 including postage.
Check out what your local library offers. If the local branch is disappointing, there may be a larger library in the city centre or a county town. The libraries in Lincolnshire, to choose at random, have 14 books by Eric Hobsbawm, 4 books by Gramsci and the complete works of Lenin. If they don’t have the book you want, libraries may be able to get it elsewhere through an inter-library loan. Local libraries can also borrow books from the British library on inter-library loans. However, many libraries make a charge for some of these services – Hackney charges £10 to get a book from the British Library, for example, but other councils charge £4.50.
Many universities ( we checked Newcastle, Leicester and Plymouth) allow people doing research to use their library. At these universities it’s free to use books in the library: if you want to borrow them, you have to pay (Leicester charges £20 for three months’ borrowing rights.)
Karl Marx used the British Library, and you can too! The British Library holds a copy of every book published in the UK, and many books from other countries as well – a total of 150 million items. To access the British Library, you need a Reader Pass – see details on getting one here. The web page makes it sound intimidating, but in practice it’s straightforward. The staff are generally pleasant people and the place is unionised. You may be asked to explain why you need access: explain what it is that you’re writing about. It’s a good idea to look in the online catalogue (here) for a few of the books you need, so you can give their titles if you’re asked. If it helps you feel more confident, take along a letter from the publication you’re writing for, explaining what you’re writing and asking for access. Remember to bring the correct bits of ID. If you have ever had anything published, take that along.
Other national libraries
The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth hold a copy of every book published in the UK. The National Library of Wales has 6 million books. Both these libraries say on their website that anyone can use the library. You need to bring ID.
Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge Universities
Cambridge University Library holds a copy of every book published in the UK. It has over twenty floors of open-access shelves, so browsing among several million books is possible. You can use Cambridge University Library on a reference basis if you need materials they hold for your research –check their online catalogue for examples. There is a charge of £10 every six months.
Oxford University’s library (the Bodleian) holds a copy of every book published in the UK and can be used by people doing research. This is free if you are over 65 and unemployed, or if you are on benefits: otherwise there is a charge of £20 every six months.
Accessing articles in academic journals
If you’re really going into a subject in depth, you may need to read these. The good news is that this is fairly easy online through university libraries. Thousands of journals are published: each university subscribes to a selection. Anyone at university will have a username and password for their university library: ask if they can use it to download a PDF of the article you need. If you don’t know a university student, ask in the rs21 Facebook group