Tuesday 30 April 2013

Unexpected books

I confess: I've bought books through Amazon.  Accordingly, I get info-mails from them - today "New books for May", pushing a score of books that I might think of buying.  As I've also bought books through Amazon for my creditless teenage daughters, there's some diversity there.  But not half enough as 20 books is about 1/1000th of the publishing output for the month, from Britain alone.  Google tailors its searches according to the IP number of the computer asking, Amazon tailors its recommendations according to previous buying habits, so we are sheltered from the unexpected. I'm sure this makes for more efficiency most of the time but I do feel sometimes as if I'm already back in diapers.

I used to work on Trinity College Dublin. It has the distinction of being one of half a dozen Copyright Libraries in the British Isles, authorised to request a copy of any and every book published in these islands.  That's a LOT of books: about 200,000 each year. And the sad truth is that the Library doesn't chase up all the books to which it is entitled. In the basement of the TCD Library is a section where the books which have been acquired under the rules of copyright are stored after being catalogued but before they’re shipped out to wait-for-readers in a warehouse out by the Airport.  They are shelved by accession number - as they came in – rather than by author or subject.  It’s wonderful down there: an Al-Addin’s cave of treasure peppered through the dross of hydrodynamics, Hogwarts, and history.  I often used to dive down there to choose my weekend reading and always surfaced with an oyster and occasionally a pearl.

I've written before about the increasingly finite Universe of the internet as mediated by Google and Wikipedia for our convenience. If I'm not given more windows to the outside of my internet bubble, I may burst out and go on a merry dance through the dangerous but colourful jungle of the unknown.

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