I just found out that my library card gives me online access to a whole range of reference material. Maybe you knew that already; maybe I’m the very last person in the UK to find out.

Here’s a selection of what’s available to me with a Southwark Libraries card:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary
  • Oxford Music Online (a superset of The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)
  • A database of articles from of major British and Irish newspapers—this even includes the now-paywalled Times.
  • The Times Digital Archive: every page from that newspaper, scanned, and indexed.

I was utterly delighted to find that I could use the OED free of charge with my (also free) library card.

You might have a different selection available; you’ll have to check your own local library’s website.

The Times Digital Archive is an entertaining resource; a quick search for bicycle led me to this delightful article from 1869:

VELOCIPEDING.—A journey on bicyles from Liverpool to London, by way of Oxford and Henley, has just been accomplished by two of the Liverpool Velocipede Club. On Wednesday evening, Mr. A. S. Pearson and Mr. J. M. Caw, the honorary secretary of the club, set off from the shores of the Mersey for a “preliminary canter” to Chester, from which city they started in earnest on Thursday morning. After a ride of 59 miles they arrived at Newbridge, near Wolverhampton, where they stayed the night. On Friday the velocipedians, having traversed the Black Country, went on to Woodstock, a distance of 69 miles, where they slept. On Saturday night the tourists arived in London, feeling none the worse for their long ride. Their bicycles caused no little astonishment on the way, and the remarks passed by the natives were most amusing. At some of the villages the boys clustered round the machines, and, when they could, caught hold of them, and ran behind until they were tired out. Many inquiries were made as to the name of “them queer horses,” some calling them “whirligigs,” “menageries,” and “valaparaisos.” Between Wolverhampton and Birmingham attempts were made to upset the riders by throwing stones. The tourists carried their luggage in carpet bags, which can be fastened on by strapping them either in front or on the portmanteau plate behind. This is stated to be the longest bicycle tour yet made in this country, and the riders are of the opinion that, had they been disposed, they could have accomplished the distance in much less time.

Some things haven’t changed much in 140 years: the public is still confused by and occasionally antipathetic towards bicycles. Other things have, such as vocabulary: it’s no longer customary to refer to the denizens of the provinces as natives.