"Book Traces" examines University library collection's historic roots

Lecture explores 19th century handwritten notes in library books

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The project helps bring attention to the moving focus towards digital media and away from the printed book.

Sophie Liao | Cavalier Daily

Assoc. English Prof. Andrew Stauffer gave a lecture Wednesday about Book Traces, a project to examine pre-copyright books in the Alderman stacks for markings from the original owners and to research the stories behind them.

The University Library Council sponsored the lecture.

Book Traces is a part of a national initiative started at the University to look into libraries around the country for hidden historical value, Stauffer said. The project currently has a two-year grant.

“We have these historic collections that are sitting in Alderman,” Stauffer said. “There are a lot of old books there that were marked, or written in, or have owners’ names from the 19th century. We are trying to make a catalog of all of those artifacts that are still in Alderman.”

Book Traces has examined 25,000 books in the Alderman stacks. Through the course of the project, 12.5 percent of examined books contain valuable annotation.

The project has also been promoted at Columbia University and the University of Miami, Stauffer said. The next promotion event will be held at the University of Victoria in Canada.

“Book Traces is a way of getting students involved with, and making a case for, the value and uniqueness of the print collections, which are thought of as having already been digitized or could be found on Google Books,” Stauffer said.

Book Traces arose from an assignment for students to find 19th-century books in Alderman Library and note historical marks, Stauffer said.

The project shows books as more than just paper and ink, but as an important part of the lives of readers and previous owners, Stauffer said.

“It makes us realize that books are not just containers for content, but that they were social objects that people interacted with and left left traces upon,” Stauffer said. “They are not just neutral media, but they are involved in the lives of the users and readers.”

Library Council Co-Chair Jackie Morrogh, a fourth-year College student, said the project helps bring attention to the moving focus towards digital media and away from the printed book.

The printed book is a little bit in danger of being dismantled or tossed to the side nationwide,” Morrogh said. “So I think that a renewed importance placed on the physical copy of the book is extremely important.”

The next step of the project is to expand the search into the Law and Music libraries and to examine books in storage at the Ivy Stacks.

Stauffer said he hopes more students will get involved in the project following the event and become more interested in the contents of the University’s libraries.

“I hope to get students interested in the library and in the print collections that are housed there and help them realize that they are more exciting and interesting than anything they have assumed,” Stauffer said.

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