BOOK Full Form| What is a Book?

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Not just a bag of words, but a thing held by human hands.By Alexis C. Madrigal

BookTraces is a new project to track down the human markings in 19th-century books that, in the era of digitization, will (at best) end up in deep storage throughout the nation’s library system.

The books are “a massive, distributed archive of the history of reading, hidden in plain sight in the circulating collections,” the site argues. Individual copies of each book can contain inscriptions, photos and other historical data such as inscriptions, photos and original manuscripts. Each book must be opened and inspected.

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This research has many implications for librarians, but it is also interesting for lay people. The project aims to preserve and find unique copies of ancient texts.What is a book?

It seems quite obvious in the Kindle era. The act of digitizing a book, and then removing it from its shelf, has an implicit argument: a book is the text. A book is as unique as its words.

Print books can also be objects. They can be manufactured objects, owned objects or objects that have been marked with pencils, time, coffee cups, oils from our skin, and pencils. Andrew Stauffer from the University of Virginia, who founded the project, said that a book is more than just a collection of words. These books are objects that have much to offer us. 

There are two main types of stories that each book-object can tell. The first is the history of the book’s reception. What annotations were made to the text by people? What can their aftermarket markings reveal about the way they read the book? What was the comprehension of it?

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Stauffer stated that RapGenius was in some ways the modern-day equivalent to what BookTraces might find for the 19th Century.

RapGenius’ Ilan Zichory stated that annotated texts are the best way to experience documents now when I interviewed him. RapGenius’ vision of print is not one that emphasizes the narrowness and fixity associated with it. Instead, all texts are surrounded in the thoughts and comments of those who have inspired them. The text is like a field full of clover, and the annotations like bees pollinating.

BookTraces could prove that RapGenius is a textual precursor if it was widely used: the marks found in books capture some aspects of the ecosystem that surrounds all texts that are exchanged between people.Booktraces.org

Stauffer offers a touching example. Felicia Hemans, a sentimental poet, gave Ellen a book. Her seven-year old daughter, Ellen, died years later. She adapted lines from Felicia Hemans to create a memorial within the bookMary, Mary.

Stauffer was moved by this and looked through another edition of Hemans at the UVA library to find a similar tribute for a child who had died. He said, “This tells us a lot about how people used Hemans and that book to refract grief.”

There’s also a second type of story the books can tell: the history and development of reading in 19th-century America.

Every book-object has pages of paper. These pages might have been valued more for their literary value than they were for their scrap paper. Stauffer said that paper was quite expensive at the beginning of the century because no processes were available to turn wood pulp into sheets. He said that the whole 19th century was about paper becoming cheaper. It’s almost like digital access, with the increasing bandwidth. It was just getting more paper.”

He continued, “In the early years of the century, people use whatever scrap they have because it is difficult to find.” “But, by the middle of the 19th century, I don’t think we know what people thought about books. They believed that the book was inexpensive enough that they could write on it. However, it wasn’t as cheap as writing in a magazine or The New York Times

Digital bandwidth is growing rapidly, which means it will be up to us in the early 21st Century to decide the long-term fate of this printed record. The books are not likely to be lost as bags of words. However, they could be lost as objects.

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This is because libraries are in a difficult spot. Many people don’t bother to read 19th-century books. Modern readers may find the volumes to be strange and eye-strain-inducing. After scanning the contents, librarians might decide to either store these volumes in deep storage or to get rid of them all.

Although it may only cost a few dollars to store a book on a shelf over a year, there are millions of books in the national library system. It adds up.

The (well-intentioned, and welcome) drive for access to these texts via Google Books and Hathi Trust Digital Library has eliminated any need for people who are interested to see the actual object.

Stauffer believes that this is what we should know. The next few years will not determine if we keep the history of print culture but how.

He said that the objects contained “all the social structures and language of technology provenance, as well as all the paths it traveled from the time it was pulled off the press to the moment you got it into your hands.” “Who knows, if there are any ways that we can illuminate those backwards pathways? 

BookTraces exists to help you do this. This project is a rallying call to encourage people all over the country to pull 19th-century books from the shelves and search in them for traces of their human ancestors.

This project is fascinating outside of the library world at present because Stauffer said, “We are post-book.” The book is strangely alienated. “We look back at the book and wonder, “What were people thinking about it?”

This feeling of alienation is something I feel as someone who has written one. Is there a book anymore?

Digital distribution, self-publishing and the general mutability inherent in electronic media are putting a lot of things that once defined a book, such as fixity, objecthood or a publisher, into doubt.

It’s similar to what happened online when people stopped calling written content essays, posts, or stories and began classifying everything as “a piece”, categorizing it in the great space of non-genres as another small collection of words.

So I was pushing my stroller into Berkeley’s main stacks yesterday. Reaching down on a low shelf to find Felicia Hemans poems, I reached for the tiny book.

The pages were what I first noticed. The pages were hard to flip and stiff. It was almost like receiving a new pack of cards. They were not fragile as you might think, but they had tough pages.

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Next, I noticed the discoloration in the paper. Although yellow splotches were evident on most pages, it didn’t seem like liquid had fallen upon them. They were age spots, I guess, perhaps legible to an expert in the chemistry of decay.

I looked at each page for any underlining. I could not see beyond the text.

Berkeley also has a library. This one is in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. They have racks full of specimens from all kinds of animals that they store in the museum, which is open to future scientists. One strange memory is that a tour guide opened a cabinet and pulled out a tray containing a few dozen chipmunks. Another is standing among fur racks in the pelt room.Chipmunks at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (Wired)

That archive’s purpose is to ensure that any physical object can generate more information than any digitization. Many of the pelts, and even chipmunks, were not aware of DNA and had not used a range of environmental contaminants when they were first preserved. Now, scientists can use them to do in-depth analysis of the animals that once wore these skins.

Perhaps there is an analogy between chipmunks, book-objects, and books. Stauffer stated that the whole concept of what a book is should be questioned. “If you had 40 copies of the Longfellow book, each one would differ from all others.” They keep more than one chipmunk.

Stauffer isn’t a utopian in his project or insisting that all 40 Longfellow volumes should be preserved. He is well aware of the challenges and incentives librarians face.

“It’s almost like biodiversity. What level of diversity can we afford?” He asked.Rutherford Chang’s The White Album (Rutherford Chang).

1. The British Library had 5,000 newspapers volumes. Nicholson Baker, a novelist, created the American Newspaper Repository in the late 1990s. He housed the archive in an old brick mill in New Hampshire, until Duke University eventually took over the collection in 2004

Baker even wrote a vigorous defense of keeping paper in the guise of a book called, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper.Alexis C. Madrigal is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project, and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.TwitterEmail

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