Street Library Sends Readers on Treasure Hunt
BookCrossing books can be found enclosed in a clear plastic bag, with a sticker depicting a yellow book sporting arms and legs on the front. “Howdy! Hola! Bonjour! Guten Tag!” the label reads. “I’m a very special book.” On the label is a numerical code and a website: BookCrossing.com.
BookCrossing is a public library that travels from reader to reader, rather than from a library to a person. Users register their books online to get a BookCrossing ID, print out the ID label, attach it to the book, and release the book into the wild--anywhere the BookCrosser desires, from popular hangouts to parking lots. When a book is “caught,” a person picks up the book and posts a journal entry on the BookCrossing website reviewing the book and noting where he or she will leave it next.
In Manhattan, there are currently four vague “crossing zones” (places where users have left BookCrossing books) listed on BookCrossing’s website: Bleecker Street, Fresh & Co on Lexington and 56th Street, 1 New York Plaza, and “West Village.” Clicking on each zone shows the books registered at it and where they were left last. A copy of Joan Didion’s “The White Album” was left “on a bench” somewhere along Bleecker Street by BrookCrossing user supersigi on August 26. There have been no entries on the book’s whereabouts since.
BookCrossing is like a game of hide-and-seek for readers. If a user wants a specific book in his area, he has to hunt the area described online until he finds it. People can also stumble upon the books by chance.
BookCrossing was launched on April 21, 2001 by Ron Hornbacker, Bruce Pedersen, and Heather Pedersen. Hornbacker noticed there was a trend in websites tracking items like dollar bills (WheresGeorge.com), but nothing for objects that are “intrinsically shared,” like books, according to BookCrossing’s website. Since then, the site has gained more than 965,000 users and 8,226,000 books are traveling across the world. In New York state alone 184 books have been released into the wild. 4,599 books are waiting to be caught in the United States as of September 27. Germany leads the chart with 6,550 books.
“I think [sharing books] says a lot about our community, the emotions that people attach to books and our core values of connecting people through books,” Bruce Pedersen said to The Seattle Times in September 2011.
Some publishers and authors, however, don’t agree with the concept of BookCrossing. In 2005, Caroline Martin, managing director of Harper Press, told The Telgraph that, “Book publishing as a whole has its very own potential Napster crisis in the growing practice of BookCrossing.”
British author Jessica Adams had a similar view. In 2003, she said BookCrossing can damage “charity bookshops, which rely on second-hand books for their income” in an article in Scotland on Sunday.
Zach Thomas, a full-time employee at Alabaster Bookshop, a secondhand bookstore, finds the idea of BookCrossing appealing. “I understand artists need to get paid for their art, but people share books all the time,” he said. “I really find it hard to believe that one book is getting into the hands of so many people that it’s causing a major impact in terms of sales.”
“It’s nice to be able to add some other dimension to that so it’s not just by yourself,” he added, “whether that’s going to book clubs and discussing them or [BookCrossing], where you get to go out, be active and add a little element of adventure or mystery.”