Gladys Santiago

Books, the Idea: A Social Networking Experiment

Posted in Media by Gladys Santiago on May 15, 2010

Checked out as of 12/26/08

“…the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.” - NYT

I prefer reading physical books.  Naturally, as Kindles, iPads and Nooks gain popularity, people are inclined to become nostalgic for the smell and feel of physical books and perhaps also for libraries.  Inspired by Rob Walker‘s “Books, the Idea” series and my own curiosity about previous and future readers of library books I checked out, I’ve begun a project to examine library books as catalysts to social networking.  I envision this project being part real-world GoodReads, part book club.  I’m interested in discovering what sort of connections can be made through communal objects.

Unlike other communal objects like movie rentals, library books capture the presence of borrowers.  Whether through the highlighting of a passage, the dog-earring of a page, the writing along margins or the check-out cards that were once a common fixture, there’s something about library books that scream, “I was here!”  In that regard, each library book has an aura and that aura grows stronger with every borrower.  There’s a latin saying that goes, “pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli, which means, “According to the capabilities of the reader, books have their destiny” (via: NYT).

Although the Internet connectivity e-books exudes a sense of shared experience and privacy (via), the wear and tear of library books show signs of life and traces of history.  Without directly getting into the issue of authenticity and digital reproduction, one goal of my project is to demonstrate that the shared reading experience feels more personal and reflective when a borrower encounters traces of a book’s past.

Project Methodology

I placed a handwritten note inside one of the NYPL’s 15 copies of David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto that explains the purpose of this project and includes my contact information.  I always enjoy finding things nestled between the pages of a book.  I’ve found lottery tickets (all losers), a Polaroid picture, receipts, scrap paper, postcards–all evidence of life before me–and I welcome these mementos from readers past.  I hope other readers do as well and are open to the possibility of connecting.

Even though I own a copy, I’m going to place a note in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Every Body because I think this project (which for lack of a better name, I call NYPL Connect) touches on many of the concepts he discusses.  A possible challenge, besides getting people to respond, might be NYPL staff or other borrowers discarding my notes before someone willing to participate reaches out to me.  Regardless, I’m going to include a note in every book I check out and hope I hear from some interesting folks.

I’m currently working on a website to share any updates.  I encourage other library users to initiate conversations through library books as well and please let me know how it turns out.  And remember, “Only connect…”

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3 Responses

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  1. Josef said, on May 23, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Another great idea, but one with some challenges. I am a lifelong library fiend. I normally try to keep the books in the same condition I borrowed them and prefer to leave no trace of myself. I suspect older users are the same. Now that the library has switched to self serve machines and online renewal, lately the only things I see in books are the slips from the machines which are interesting if you want to get nosy at other people’s reading choices, but I generally consider it garbage. An easy to use website might help your idea more. It would be interesting to see. I also have friends who worked for the public library. After a season, heavily marked or dog-eared books are sold in fundraising or taken out of circulation.

  2. [...] of Murketing Gladys Santiago describes, here, her NYPL Connect project, which aims to “examine library books as catalysts to social [...]

  3. shema said, on October 27, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    The Books, the idea equation=15(My Secret: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren – The secret ) X 86 NYPL Branches + 10 possible renewals(3 weeks of loan time to find the note in the book) / (Library staff who tosses paper out)
    I think the concept is great, how you expedite it could use a little tweaking.

    How about you place 100 notes throughout the branches at a high frequency time (back-to-school) or a popular section (Shakespeare-822.33) that requires page turning. This can enhance finding the note and perhaps responding because they need a break from the old english


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