So, I was on my way out of the Library yesterday at 7.55pm when the building shut, and this guy got into the lift with me and started spouting off homophobic abuse. "Queer as a fag," he said. "They give these fucking queers powers. Security!".
I looked at the other 5 people in the lift. They looked back at me. None of us looked comfortable. I considered saying something ("Excuse me sir, I don't consider that sort of language acceptable"), weighed up the relative probability of the extremely angry man hitting me (would the presence of other people in the lift stop him? He was probably double my body mass, and much of that muscle), and said nothing. He stalked into the locker room still muttering hate speech.
I put my laptop and folder in my bag, shaking slightly, got my coat, picked up my bags and left. He left at the same time, now saying "Bitches and faggots. Queers, the lot of them." So it had become misogynistic speech as well as homophobic. Nice.
I thought about reporting him to Security, but didn't know how to describe him. He wasn't even the only bald-headed man in a grey-green coat there. Then he walked into the accessible toilet despite being fully ambulant with no stick or crutches, which provided a useful distinguishing factor.
"Excuse me", I told the Security guard, who turned out to be the Supervisor, "That man who's just gone into the Disabled toilet despite not having anything visibly wrong with him? He's been extremely verbally abusive."
"I've had several complaints already, including from my staff," said the Security Supervisor. "We'll find out who he is, get a clear identification, and then ban him from the building."
It seems that what Mr Angry Man was upset about was the British Library security staff's usual manner of checking everything you take out of the Reading Room with you - books, papers and laptop - to make sure that you haven't stolen anything. People do this, especially with rare or historical books and manuscripts. It's always very polite, and with the focus on it being people in general that can't be trusted, rather than you in particular.
I realised as I walked round to meet Richard that not only did they know exactly which Reading Room he'd come from, they'd have plenty of CCTV evidence to review. You don't specifically sign in to the British Library, just show your pass - but the CCTV may be good enough to record the number. Also, they have photographs of all pass holders on record, and records of everyone who's used a computer or photocopier there, or ordered and/or collected books that are on Closed Access each day. This probably amounts to a pretty good record of who's in. It would be extremely rare for a person to go into the Reading Room, only use Open Access books, and not print off or photocopy anything.
So Mr Angry Man is going to find out, pretty soon, that access to the British Library is a privilege, not a right.
And I'm glad that I live in a culture where this sort of speech is considered unacceptable.