My local public library has a door slot for returning books after hours. You can see the growing pile of books through the window, and on some weekends the pile gets so tall, reaching back up to the slot, that you can imagine a fantasy scenario where the books inside have crawled to the door and climbed on top of one another to try to get out through the slot, perhaps to search for readers…
A similar ‘social life of books’ scenario inspires a new Urban Opus project underway with the North Vancouver District Public Library and the BC Libraries Cooperative. “BookLore” (working title) spins citizen-generated data about the circulation of books into public engagement threads about reading that are designed to strengthen the social fabric of communities.
Our love and ability to read is fostered socially, most effectively on a parent’s lap. And while that act of reading gradually becomes a solitary experience, the culture of books remains deeply social. People join book clubs. Books are shared within families and between friends. Bibliophiles attend writers’ festivals.
While some people find it surprising that analog books continue to thrive in the tablet, e-reader and smartphone era, there are some gaps in the social nurture of book culture that, if filled, could make them even stronger.
At a planetary scale a ‘network effect’ works reasonably well for the social curation of most books on global sites like Amazon, and through professional reviews published in international media such as the New York Times and Manchester Guardian.
At a country scale there are typically some good sources, campaigns and contests that rally national pride in authors and new works.
And at a ‘friends and family’ scale we get valued recommendations and gifts from the people we know and trust.
While the social factors for all of these scales could be enhanced, BookLore addresses the local scale of city and community where the conversation about books has become quieter and less authentic. Book stores and public libraries both serve this dimension, but their managers and librarians increasingly stock their shelves based on national- and international-scaled trends and demographics analysis rather than their own interpretation of local reader interests. Local news media similarly have fewer reporters and therefore increasingly rely on book reviews from remote sources. Some of the best remaining local curation comes from the ‘staff picks’ shelves that are always prominent in libraries and book stories, which demonstrates the hunger of the reading public for local recommendations, even while the nature of such picks might be different than expected.
Meanwhile, modern public libraries do a wonderful job of circulating books to readers everywhere. The data technology to do this is impressive. For example, avid readers can use their online library accounts to request a regular stream of books coming to them at their local library. The system takes into account how many copies of a book there are, where they are, and how many people have requested them, and then generates a schedule to quietly send thousands of books on invisible trips around their city every day.
If we turn such technology inside-out and imagine the world from the viewpoint of a single book, these same data sketch a record of its life from library to library, home to home, and mind to mind. Such records can relate important public narratives about the social lives of books and reading at a community scale. What are people like you reading in your community? This in known, and can be amplified, and can be shared.
This is the very fertile ground that the BookLore partners are cultivating. From an Urban Opus Society perspective, the project is entirely about the human interface of ‘smart cities’; of how citizen engagement with data can enhance the livability and well-being of modern urban worlds. Even more important for the BC Libraries Cooperative and the North Vancouver District Public Library, the BookLore project intends to demonstrate a new business model for how such innovative data applications can reduce the strain on library acquisitions budgets while more effectively fulfilling their public service missions.
For more information about BookLore please contact David Vogt (david dot vogt at urbanopus dot net).