I know it’s rare, but a narrative that will probably find its way into a page in my memoir in future…
It used to be simpler, you have a friendly face telling you what you are not allowed to bring in, picking out stuff from your bags and informing you what you should deposit into the lockers. No, it wasn’t an intrusion of privacy or anything – it was to prevent evil deeds of vandalism on the sacred scrolls on the shelves of Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, it was to prevent abuse of the library facilities. Laws were laws and a 20 cents saves you of leaving your stuff insecurely at the security check counter (pretty ironic huh?).
Today, you have to obtain clearance after you deposit your stuff into the lockers (which are now free, and this also means that they are rarely available). The experience was daunting. I wanted to access the Business section of the majestic reference library, which is located on the 8th floor of the grand building; unfortunately, the lockers on that floor, and both those above and below it directly were taken. I had to climb right up to the 10th floor to find an empty locker. I found a couple of them, which was rapidly snapped up by those locker-hungry looking intellectuals standing behind me. Armed with ONLY my box file which contain almost nothing besides a couple of Irvin’s notes and foolscap paper and my pencil case, I tried going to the section I wanted to.
I can only blame myself for not reading instructions on the notice in front of the security counter carefully – the lady security guard told me in the most polite tone you can possibly use to a person whom you think have committed some heinous crime that only blank pieces of paper were allowed and I only manage to get permission for a little slip of paper containing call numbers of the books I was looking for. I climbed back to my locker, stuff everything into it except my slip of paper, and my pencil case. ‘Finally’, I exclaimed to myself, marched down 2 flights of escalators, determined to access the section I need to.
“Highlighters are not allowed” the same kind lady spoke in a tone now much more benign though with no sympathy for the young academic apparently shocked by the rules, after giving my unzipped pencil case a glance. She then pointed to and gave me the little pamphlet sits on the desk of the security check-point. I had no choice but to go back 2 storeys, deposit my highlighters (3 of them fortunately, to make things more worth the effort) and back to the lady now in front of a couple of angry looking teens carrying their bags and without lockers to deposit them into. I waited patiently for the little quarrel to end (the teens lost to the petite lady) and then showed the same few stuff to the lady for the 3rd time in 10 minutes.
‘Markers are not allowed’ she pointed at the fat, tube-like construction in my pencil case that had a button on one end. Yes, it was a marker but no way I am going back to place it in my locker; I have wasted almost 15 minutes by now and I decided to leave them at the counter. The kind lady granted my wish but emphasized that she is not going to take responsibility for its loss and shall pay no special attention to them.
I finally entered the library section and cherished my short 30 minutes between the shelves containing the sacred scrolls that have to be protected from highlighters, pen knifes, markers, and the great tomes, whose splendor is so great we are asked not to bring any books into the section for fear our shabby ones self-destruct in shame.
A technical economic analysis of the experience is covered in Restricted Tomes & Scrolls.