Yesterday, I was doing some research at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Libraries are normally quiet places. But yesterday the calm rustle of paper was suddenly drowned out by a piercing siren.
People wearing glasses, tweed and corduroy (though rarely all at once) seized their notes, the fruits of hours of labour, and we filed down seven or eight flights of stairs towards the fire exit. This came as something of a surprise. To access the reading room from the main entrance on George IV Bridge, you ascend only a single flight. But Edinburgh is built on a series of hills and we found ourselves leaving the building on Cowgate, just off the Grassmarket. Instinctively, if rather unwisely, we walked back up the hill to the Library's main entrance.
Needless to say, we arrived to find no fire consuming the fourteen million 'printed items'. A fire engine sat idly at the Library's entrance as disappointed-looking firemen unzipped their heatproof overalls. From the other side of the road, a disconcertingly large group of intellectuals looked on, clutching their pads of paper, impatient for permission to return to the unburnt books.