Book Traces: Find unique copies of 19th- and early 20th-century books on library shelves

Digitization has many benefits such as creating wider access and the ability to text mine large sets of data. Andrew Stauffer, director of the NINES  (Nineteenth-century Scholarship Online) project, understands the benefits, but also worries about what gets lost. As someone who has witnessed the digitization of numerous books from the UVA collection, Stauffer argues the need to also maintain print collections. He sees the extraordinary in each publication, “We tend to think one copy of a book is as good as another, or a scanned version is as good as the real thing.” Books as objects have a lot to say to us.

People exchanged books, inscribing them with messages. Others pressed flowers, saved locks of hair and kept other precious mementoes. Still others annotated texts giving us a glimpse of how they thought and felt. We get a sense of how they read in the 19th century, what was important to them and how they interpreted the texts, in the marginalia they provided. If we only keep one copy of this book, many of these insights are lost. One acutely poignant example that Professor Stauffer shared with us during my week at Rare Book School concerns a  woman named Ellen who owned a book of poetry by Felicia Hemans. Years later, when Ellen’s seven-year-old daughter died, she adapted lines from Hemans to create her own memorial inside the book. Mary, Mary, Mary.

Touched by this, Stauffer sought out other editions of Hemans in the UVa library and found a similar tribute to a child. “This really tells us something about how people were using Hemans and this book to refract their own grief,” says Stauffer.   In order to study and save some of marginalia Stauffer started a project called Book Traces. He urges you to get involved. Book Traces From the website:

Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past. Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pagesWe need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.

Join the search! Go to your library, find marked books, take photos, & upload them here.

For more see:

 “What is a book?” The Atlantic  May 7, 2014

Allison Meier “The Call to Action to Save Digitized Books from Oblivion” HYPERALLERGIC, May 8, 2014


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