Libraries across Europe appear to be facing attacks from cybercriminals. At Britain’s national library, an “incident” is sending scholars back to an analog age.
The British Library in London is normally a place of quiet study, its reading rooms filled with authors, academics and students often surrounded by piles of books from the library’s collection of about 170 million items.
Now, it’s been shushed almost entirely.
On Saturday, the library was hit by what it is calling a “cyber incident.” Ever since, its website has been down and scholars have been unable to access its online catalog. The library’s Wi-Fi has also stopped working, and staff members haven’t been allowed to turn on their computers. Its gift shop is open for business, but only for anyone with cash to buy trinkets such as British Library-branded pencils.
Library users, many of whom include writers with pressing deadlines, are beginning to be affected.
In interviews this week, seven regular users of the library — including the author of a forthcoming book on classical music, a University of Cambridge lecturer, two postgraduate students and a Shakespearean scholar — said that the library had essentially gone back to a predigital age.
Now, according to a staff member in the library’s “rare books and music” reading room, ordering a book involves looking up its catalog number in one of several hundred hardback books or an external website, writing that number onto a slip of paper and then handing it to a librarian who, in turn, would check their records to see whether the book was available. Books are only available if they are stored at the main library location.
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