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…”