What kinds of books am I looking for?

We want seekers to focus on circulating or reference copies of library books printed prior to 1923 that bear traces of nineteenth-century reading and book-use: marginal notes, letters, bookmarks, drawings — anything that sets your copy apart and gives evidence of the book’s history.  Check out some of the “Recent Submissions” on the Book Traces homepage for examples.

Where should I start?

You can start anywhere in the circulating collection of your library (not the rare book room). The PR or PS call numbers (British and American Literature) seem particularly rich with examples, but we have also seen great finds in French and Spanish literature,  history, religious and devotional texts, philosophy, and classics.

What counts as a “trace”?

We are admitting a wide range of user marks and modifications, to try to get a sense of ways book-owners left traces of themselves behind.  Owner’s names, dates, gift inscriptions, underlining, and other forms of writing or drawing are common. Sometimes you will find bookmarks and inserts, or clippings pasted in, or other additions to the book.  Avoid obviously modern marks (e.g., writing in ball-point pen, or referneces to recent events). When in doubt, get in touch or submit images, and we will get back to you.

Can I do my searching online?

Not really. You can begin with your library’s online catalog to locate pre-1923 titles in the collection, but you will then have to go into the stacks (or request the books) and examine the physical volumes carefully, looking for evidence and taking photos.

Can I submit examples of marginalia and inserts from my personal collection?

For now, no. We want to focus on books held in libraries — and particularly academic libraries — in order to get a sense of those collections and to help us make the case for library print management policies going forward.  In time, we may open up the site to personal examples, as a way of tracing 19th-century book-use in general.  Contact us if you have a particularly interesting example from one of our named authors (Longfellow, Hemans, etc.)

How do I submit a book to the Book Traces site? 

Click on the “Submit a Book” tab or button, and fill out the information about the book that is requested: title, author, etc. If you are using your smartphone, you can take pictures of interesting pages or inserts and upload those here.  You’ll need to provide your name and email address (we will not share your email; only your name will accompany your submission). Click “Submit” and our editors will review your submission and publish it to the site as soon as possible, usually the same day.

Why do you need my email address?

We are hoping to assemble an army of “book seekers” and we want to be able to get in touch with you, especially if we want to follow up on one of your submissions.  We will never publish or share your email address.

How many images should I upload for each book I submit?

No more than five.  Some books have extensive marking, and we don’t expect you to capture all of it. Just give us some examples of some of the more interesting features or pages.  If you have questions about how to capture the unique features of your copy, contact us.

Should I transcribe marginalia, inscriptions, letters, etc.?

You can do as much of this as you like in the “Description” field on the submission page. We encourage you to provide transcriptions, any historical or genealogical information, and your own comments. None of this is required, but it is definitely welcome.

How is Book Traces different from Forgotten Bookmarks.com?

Forgotten Bookmarks is a great site that displays examples of items found in used and rare books by Michael, a bookseller.  Unlike Forgotten Bookmarks, Book Traces is focused on copies of books held in libraries, with an exclusive focus on pre-1923 material.   Rather than just finding curiosities, we are hoping to assemble evidence that will help us understand patterns of 19th-century book use, and help us make the case for retaining individual copies in libraries.  This is why we ask for library name and call number for each book you submit.

Can I contribute a post commenting on my own / other people’s submitted books?

Contact us if you are interested in writing a guest post that would gather some examples together and provide historical or interpretive context for them.  We hope that Book Traces will become a site for discovery and interpretation — not only for book historians but for literature scholars and students and general readers as well.