The homeless man in the library

I’m intrigued by the story of a homeless man slipping into St John’s College Library at Cambridge for several weeks. Good on him, is the only thing I can say. There are certainly worse places to while away a cold winter’s day. His assortment of supermarket bags aside, he was probably not so different from many of the other students present with his ‘vague claims of doing a doctorate on religion and a habit of dozing off’, as The Guardian describes him. The only thing I fail to understand is why he was asked to leave and where he was supposed to go instead.

But the real reason why this story jumped at me is that I have been spending the last couple of days doing research in Geneva, and when the archive closes or I feel I am done there for the day, I tend to go into the university library to do some more reading, browsing the catalogue and scanning the shelves for interesting stuff. Nobody has ever asked me what I am doing there, nor has anybody ever tried to evict me. You do not need a library card as long as you are not planning to take any books out, and the security gates make sure you don’t.

As tax payers’ money is invested in these institutions, why not make them more freely accessible to all (within reason)? A bit of free education has never done anyone any harm.



By thehistorywoman

Historian & journalist.

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