Marks of Use

I’d like to do a quasi-photo essay — that is, a photo essay with lots of words and not-so-pretty photos — to document the physicality and sentimentality of books.

Below are pictures of a library book that I currently have in hand. As you can see, this is a popular book. It carries that great reminder that as a library user, one is a link in a chain of many, that bit of voyeurism that comes from being the Nth user of a book, in short, that check-out stamp card in the back. It’s a bit of a shame that many libraries have ceased to use such cards and so have stopped leaving such informative evidence of use in books. I believe this particular library moved away from the practice some 10 years ago. Nonetheless, this book still has 2 full sheets of check-out stamps.

A much checked out book

A veteran of use the book is. Even its durable library binding is showing signs of use. Its edges are stained. Like scars being marks of character, this book has an individuality that comes its history of use.

The ravages of use

Some of the scars from use run deeper than others. As you can see, the book has a deep battle wound that someone has lovingly, even if inexpertly, dressed. The dressing, or tape, is coming apart. If our conservator sees this book now, she would doubtlessly cringe. Preservation and conservation are relatively new fields to the old art of librarianship. Our particular program did not acquire a preservation department until roughly 5 years ago, and while our conservator has been in the lab for longer than that, but we are still very young and not very big. So even though, the repair seen in this book would be considered substandard today, I’m still happy to see that somebody cared enough and paid enough attention to this book to patch it up when it needed it.

A repair that needs repairing

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