In the old days, you might have had to heave your way through three heavy, leather-bound catalogues, as well as riffling a card-index system, to find a book in the London Library. Now, the catalogue is online, and you can look at it from home.
You don’t even have to clang over the metal floors between the bookstacks to locate your volume, or descend to the nether world that is Topography, the indexing system that takes years to master; no, you can email the librarians, who will look it out for you and keep it on the issue desk.
I am especially grateful when driving: a quick sprint into the issue hall is all that’s necessary, with good odds for getting out before being given a parking ticket.
The obvious downside of the new system is that readers such as me spend less time in the St James’s Square building. Before, I liked to feel a kind of literary solidarity with whichever interesting people happened to be there novelists, actors, television historians, bishops.
Anyone might be in the reading room, silent except from a faint susurration from the Victorian armchairs, where readers had been overwhelmed by their lunch. Reading at home, with a glass of wine at your elbow, is luxurious, but less clubbable.