What better place for an author to work on a book than a library, surrounded by inspiration of other great works that have made it into print?
That's what author Mark Forsyth might have thought, until he needed to reference a line from one of the most well-known plays by one of the most well-known playwrights and found the work blocked.
A statue depicting Shakespeare's character "Hamlet." (Photo via Shutterstock.com)
Forsyth tried to access Shakespeare's "Hamlet" while using the British Library's Wi-Fi and was met with a notice blocking the work for "violent content," he wrote on his blog.
Forsyth explained that instead of trying to order the physical work while in the library -- a process that could take 70 minutes -- he Googled "Hamlet MIT," as the university had posted all of Shakespeare's works.
Forsyth alerted the desk workers to the problem:
I asked them if they were surprised that Hamlet was now banned in the British Library. They shrugged. I asked them how it was that I could still access youtube, facebook and twitter. I asked why the girl at the next desk to me had been able to spend the last half hour on Guardian Soulmates, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's website was banned. They shrugged.
I asked if they saw the problem, perhaps just the symbolism, of Hamlet being banned in the British Library. They shrugged.
Forsyth succinctly put together his points in an update after his blog post started going viral:
I wrote the post because of 1) The amusing absurdity of the greatest work of British literature being blocked by the British Library. 2) The evident silliness of filtering systems, particularly one that blocks mit.edu but not facebook. 3) The frustration of dealing with institutions that disown their own Internet provider. 4) The miserable truth that over the last couple of years the failures of the BL's wifi - whether broken, slow or filtered - has forced researchers to choose, reluctantly, between books and the Internet.
Some of the most famous lines from "Hamlet". (Photo via Shutterstock.com)
Since this problem was dredged up last week, more content has been called out by others as being blocked by the British Library's Wi-Fi.
The library has been evaluating these cases and adjusting its Web filter to unblock some content (Hamlet, for example, is now unblocked). The library explained in a statement:
As a national library we collect all UK printed and digital material which is made accessible to researchers who are over 18 years of age in our Reading Rooms.
However, in our public areas where there are regular visits by school children, we filter certain online content, such as pornography and gambling websites.
We have recently introduced a new WiFi service. It’s early days in the implementation of this service and we are aware that the new filter has been blocking certain sites erroneously. We are actively working to resolve this issue.
BBC reported that the issue of Internet filters has been a hot topic lately after the British government passed an automatic block on pornography through U.K.-based Internet providers. Some activists expressed concern that sites that should be accessible might somehow get banned under the automatic block, and this instance involving the British Library's filter serves as a case-in-point.
"Everything that is legal should be available over the library's Wi-Fi network," Cambridge University security professor Ross Anderson told BBC. "The only things they should block are the few dozen books against which there are court judgments in the UK.
"One of the functions of deposit libraries is to keep everything, including smut," he continued.