“…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.
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…”
I posted the following comment on Rob Walker’s Murketing blog.
In reference to Flip Video, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any discussion over its name. “Flip” is a derogatory term for Filipinos and I know the product’s name is in reference to how the USB device flips out, but I’m just a little surprised that there has never been any uproar over its name. Don’t get me wrong, I love the name and the camera, but I just wonder if at any point during the development process, if anyone stopped to think that it might be offensive. The name could have really backfired (think Chevy Nova).
I would like to add that what interests me most about Flip Video’s name is the lack of a backlash that could have potentially turned very ugly for Pure Digital Technologies, the company that owns Flip products. Given all the means of broadcasting discontent on a multitude of social media outlets, I’m surprised that no one expressed any outrage or criticism. Johnson & Johnson recently pulled a Motrin ad after one mother complained about it on Twitter. The ad, seen here, is not overtly offensive, but it struck a nerve with several mothers leading to the pharmaceutical giant to issue apology after apology.
The ad was on the Motrin website for 45 days before receiving a storm of negative attention. Flip Video, in comparison, has been on the market since May 2007, but, as far as I know, not one discussion over its potentially controversial name has emerged. In a response to my comment, Rob Walker stated that he hadn’t come across anything about Flip’s name in regard to race and he even wrote an article about the digital camera in his Consumed column for New York Times Magazine.
I’m sure when Pure Digital Technologies was bringing Flip Video to market, it copytested Flip ads through the roof, yet the name still managed to slip by. As I noted in my comment, I’m well aware that the name describes the built-in USB arm and is not meant to be offensive in anyway. The term “flip” is not disparaging to a minor sub-culture, but rather, it is a hateful, derogatory word geared towards an entire race of people. So, how is it possible that nobody has yet to express their concern? I’m curious to know whether people have reached out directly to Pure Digital Technologies over this issue and if so, what their response was.