“Go, ogle!” urged the wonderful Professor Christopher Ricks, last night at a Royal Society of Literature lecture.

His audience sniggered. These were people who read real books. Although they were probably all internet research sinners, the party line is that Google throws up all that is transient, that is “currently trending.” Google is the app of the modern soul.

But the search engine does a great line in silver service for the people. It’s the kind you used to get in the old British Library when the BL dozed like a tabby cat at the hearth in the British Museum. You ordered a book and about two hours later some kindly, vegetarian librarian would approach your desk, pushing a creaking wooden trolley on which your book lay like an ailing figure on its way to surgery. British Library librarians were rumoured to  bring you, occasionally, something you might also be interested in – incarnations of the gracious “See Also..” in indexing.

At the Google interface we do not have a domed ceiling to hold our most abstract musings. We have an expelled-schoolboy genius for a librarian. He hurls sources to us, some intact, others hopelessly fragmented from their context. The delight he takes in his job is similar to the librarian: there are direct responses to our search but also tangential ones. And his white-teeth delight is not really in the content, not even in the demotic, democratic listing of the illegal with the state-approved. No, it is in knowing how much of our life he has saved us from searching ourselves for all these miracles of human endeavour and howling fakes alike.

He parades them before us, the thoughts of kings besides ravings of the dispossessed, equally noble in their standard issue Google list suit.

c. 1680—England: A wash drawing attributed to Marcellus Laroon depicts a group of 17th century town waits—3 shawms and a trombone

An unexpected procession found in a google image search


Scuttling from St Martin’s Lane towards Charing Cross, I caught a glimpse of Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle,” the latest artwork on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square. Handsome, indeed, even from that distance.

Looking into the making of Impossible Bottles, I have been tickled by the opinion that “This handcraft is suitable to people with a lot of patience and to people who are inside prison cells.”  What would a jailbird choose to imprison in their own glass jar? The mind boggles.

But that ol’ mind boggling is itself just a wandering clipper held captive in its own narrow-necked, bone jar..

Yinka Shonibare's "Ship in a Bottle"

Yinka Shonibare's "Ship in a Bottle" (BBC photograph)

When “Dracula” author, Bram Stoker writes the words “I have not seen my [library] ticket for at least twenty years” I imagine a deathly pale piece of paper trembling in an old trunk,  one of its corners roughly torn… and if I were the principal librarian of the British Library in the year 1905, I too would have issued the man a replacement without delay.

See Bram Stoker’s request for a replacement library ticket and Arthur Conan Doyle’s request to join the British Library.

Bram Stoker's letter to the British Library

Bram Stoker's letter to the British Library 1905 (from BL website)