DR. BOLI’S COLLECTION OF HANDS.

Perhaps you have a hobby that you never mention to anyone. Perhaps you fear that others might find it a little—what is the best term for it?—creepy.

Dr. Boli has a hobby like that. He collects hands.

Not just any hands. They have to be librarians’ hands, and Dr. Boli collects them from Google Books.

The scanning of thousands upon thousands of books is necessarily done in haste, and with a broad tolerance for error. Usually the librarian, or deputy sub-under-librarian, charged with the scanning is careful; but accidents do happen, and fingers are photographed.

Some of the images are wonderfully artistic—surreal and suggestive—like this blurred hand captured in the act of retreating from the camera. This image tells a whole story, rich with metaphor, about the half-seen truths of other people’s lives, the things we glimpse only occasionally and very briefly before the veil of conventional behavior falls over them again.

More often, though, what we see is just a finger or two in the corner of the image, often in vivid color, because librarians wear brightly colored finger shields when they scan old books, and apparently Google’s algorithms trigger full-color mode when they detect color content in the image:

 

There seems to be another algorithm that attempts to blur out these straying fingers, with different levels of success, as we see here, where the thumb is clearly visible but the fingers have been clumsily obscured:

Every once in a while, though, we get a magnificent full-page, full-color hand:

Dioscorides-cropped

These are the rare moments of discovery that make Dr. Boli think life is worth the trouble after all.