Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bookcrossing, or ‘How to turn the world into a library’.

Have you a shelf full of books gathering dust, that you are unlikely ever to read again? Or have you a book that you loved so much that you want to share it with everybody? Would you like to find a free book lying on a park bench one day, waiting for you to pick it up and take it home? If any of these apply, then ‘Bookcrossing’ could well be for you… So what’s it all about?

How It Started: is a labour of love, conceived and maintained by an American company called ‘Humankind Systems Inc.’ which develops software and exploits the internet. Seeking a break from the boredom of creating yet another e-commerce website, and yet another email server application, Humankind company director Ron Hornbaker wanted to create an internet community site that would be innovative, that would give back to the world at large and that would give him warm, fuzzy feelings whenever he worked on it. was the result.

In March, 2001 Hornbaker and his wife Kaori were inspired by two websites: the website, which tracks disposable cameras loosed into the wild, and, which tracks U.S. currency by serial number. They realised that the same premise could be applied to books. It was a great surprise to Ron when he discovered that BookCrossing had not been done on any significant scale before. By 3 A.M. the same night as the idea was born, they had decided on the name (zero hits for "bookcrossing" on Google), registered the domain, and Kaori had sketched the running book logo on a crossing sign. The rest is history.
The BookCrossing site went live in April 2001, and since then thousands have joined up (currently 466,677) and millions of books have been registered (currently 3,027,361). No doubt because of its American beginnings, BookCrossing is much more popular in English-speaking countries than elsewhere, but numbers worldwide are steadily growing, and there are bookcrossers in most areas of the globe. Articles have been written about the site in countless magazines, and it has appeared regularly on TV and radio. In 2004, the word 'bookcrossing' was even added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary! (n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.).

How Does It Work?
If you want to join up and start releasing and tracking your books obviously you need access to the Internet – but with free access available in libraries, and internet cafes springing up in many places, this isn’t too difficult even without a home PC. Visit and register by providing a username and password, along with a few other details, and you're set. All your details are kept completely private - it's up to you how much you reveal about yourself onsite.
Next you will need to decide which books you’d like to ‘release in the wild’ and track, and register them. You will do this by clicking on the 'register book' link and following the simple instructions. Remember to write the Book Crossing Identification Number (BCID) you are given somewhere inside the book - people generally write it inside the front cover, along with the BookCrossing web address and instructions ( the three ‘R’s: READ, REGISTER, RELEASE) - so that hopefully your finder will know it is a special book and will know how to ‘journal’ it themselves when they find it. To make this identification easier, you can download labels to print off and stick inside the book cover, or even buy beautifully illustrated bookplates with bookcrossing instructions ready made from the Bookcrossing website supply shop.
When you register your book on the website you will be requested to write a ‘journal entry’ which can be as brief or long as you like: for example you can say whether you liked it or not (there is an optional scale out of ten), and/or give a brief synopsis of the story.
The next step is to release it into ‘the wild’, otherwise known as leaving it somewhere for someone else to find, so the book can start its journey.
Releasing Books
You need to make it clear that the book is not left where you release it by mistake (sadly, there are many registered books languishing in ‘lost property’) so put a ‘Post it’ Note (or similar) on the front cover of the book to let everyone knows it's there for the taking. There are plenty of examples of what to write on the website, but something like 'This is a free book, it isn't lost, please pick it up and take it home!' will get the message across.
You then need to think about where to release the book. This is fun. Anywhere folk are likely to linger will do - books have been released in cafés, in university lecture theatres, in waiting rooms. Obviously one needs to be aware of sensitive locations such as airports and train stations where a left book could cause a security alert. More exotic release locations have included a book being lodged in a crack half way up Haytor Rock (s’true) to another being wedged in a wreck at the bottom of The Mull of Sound in Scotland (scuba diving skills essential). I have released books in the Reception area at Bovey Tracey Community Hospital (very successful – waves to ‘Viking Maiden’!) and the Pizza Place (not so successful).

If abandoning your book to its fate doesn’t appeal, you can visit the bookcrossing ‘forums’ where other bookcrossers from all over the world meet to chat. Within the forums there are places to trade books, or offer them up as a ‘ring’ or ‘ray’. There are no rules – you can still give your registered book to a charity shop if that is your wish, or even pass it on to friends (who may decide to join bookcrossing themselves!). Either way, once the book has left your hands, you sit back and wait for the email saying someone else has 'caught' (found) it and made a journal entry of their own. If they go on to release it, you can follow its travels all over the world.
A lot of BookCrossing books are sadly never heard from again once they've been released. But don't give up if this happens to your book, just remember that someone somewhere may be reading and enjoying it, even if they haven't come online to say so. And there are many stories of bookcrossers receiving journal entries from books that they thought lost years before, having travelled around the world in the meantime.
Release Challenges
To vary the theme, many bookcrossers enjoy setting release challenges for themselves and others. An example might be 'Books about Christmas' to be released every week in December, or releasing gardening books in Public Parks and Gardens. Some Bookcrossers have attempted to release 'one book for every letter of the alphabet'. The website has a forum to discuss such adventures.
Finding Books
Lucky you if you are fortunate enough to find a BookCrossing book lying around somewhere. Its former owner will be anxious to hear what has happened to it, so head on over to the BookCrossing website and enter the BCID on the home page. You can join up if you want, or remain an Anonymous Finder. Then you can read the book and release the book yourself, or keep it as part of your permanent collection on your bookshelf: it's entirely up to you!
You can increase your chances of finding a released book by signing up for release notifications. Look for the ‘Go Hunting’ section of the bookcrossing website, where you can follow simple instructions to allow you to receive emails every time someone releases a book in your area. When you receive your release alert, finding the book is like participating in a treasure hunt!
Other Ways to BookCross
Releasing a book in the wild isn't the only way of letting your book travel. There are various methods of sharing your book with other bookcrossers, all of which can be organised through the BookCrossing forum:
- Bookrays: a bookray is a single book posted from one bookcrosser to another, following an order usually set in advance but often added to along the way. The final member of the bookray is usually at liberty to do whatever they want with the book once they receive it.
- Bookrings: a bookring is similar to a bookray, except that the final member of a bookring should send the book back to the first person in the list once they have read it. This person can then either release the book or keep it.
- RABCK: a 'Random Act Of BookCrossing Kindness' - is where a bookcrosser will send a fellow bookcrosser a book without being part of a ray or ring, and without expecting anything in return. The recipient is then free do what they like with the book. Many bookcrossers’ bookshelves on the site have a ‘wishlist’ which makes the sending of RABCK much simpler. I have received books full of glitter, and books with CHOCOLATE tucked inside. Mmm. Bookcrossers are such a generous lot.
- Trades: a trade is where two bookcrossers agree to exchange books, which they can then either keep or release.
- Bookboxes: a bookbox is exactly what it sounds like - a box of books. These work in a similar way to bookrings, except that each recipient should remove the books from the box that they wish to read, and replace them with other books before posting it on to the next person on the list. Many bookboxes are devoted to a particular genre such as science fiction, or chick lit, in which case books put into the box should fit the theme.
- OBCZ: an OBCZ, or ‘Official BookCrossing Zone’, is usually a bookshelf or box in the corner of a café, pub, library, internet café, or a multitude of other places, where BookCrossing books can be released and caught. If there is an OBCZ near you, feel free to take a book or two (remember to journal them), and maybe leave a couple in their place. I manage an OBCZ at South Devon College in Courtenay Street in Newton Abbot. There is another OBCZ in Hudson’s Coffee House in Plymouth managed by Mytilus.
- Geocaching: some bookcrossers have combined BookCrossing with Geocaching.
Social Bookcrossing
BookCrossing doesn't have to be a solitary activity and many towns and cities in the UK and around the world have regular BookCrossing meetups. Devon Bookcrossers meet up monthly approximately, in Hudson’s coffee house in Plymouth and the Boston Tea Party in Exeter. There has also been a bookreleasing walk at Drogo Castle to which over a dozen bookcrossers turned up. I have been pleased to meet ‘Pyxis’, ‘Europea’, ‘Anglersrest’, ‘Mytilus’ and ‘Sufiboy’ amongst others. (WAVES - Hiya!) Some meetups also include a mass release, where everyone will bring a few books and will release them around the local area. In addition to these meetups, there are also various Conventions around the world. The UK has its own ‘Unconvention’, held annually in Birmingham - which let bookcrossers get together en masse and enjoy themselves. The next one will be in July 2006 and is already sold out and I'm going!
Information about all these meet-ups can be found on the BookCrossing Forum or on Yahoo mailing lists devoted to Bookcrossing such as BCUK.

There has been some controversy in the past over whether BookCrossing is a bad idea from the point of view of authors and publishers (another ‘Napster’?) - surely if people are sharing books in this way then there will be fewer books being purchased? Much the same argument was used against libraries at one time. The general consensus from Bookcrossers is that they actually buy more books than they did prior to BookCrossing - if they really like a book they'll buy a copy for themselves and another to release! My own experience is that I’ve been introduced to many new authors and genres as a result of Bookcrossing and have bought more books as a result. As with libraries and second-hand bookshops, BookCrossing is just another way for many people to read the same book, perhaps a book that they wouldn't have thought of reading otherwise.
Many authors are themselves bookcrossers and have released some of their own books.

Bookcrossing is the internet at its best – it is fun, it is free and also a fascinating excercise in fate, karma, or whatever you want to call the chain of events that can occur between two or more lives and one piece of literature. If you’d like to see what books are available on my bookshelf then please do visit

I’ve cribbed much of this – from the Bookcrossing website and from an article by a bookcrosser (Cyzaki I think) which was a H2G2 entry on the BBC website.
I’ve changed it in most places but it’s still heavily plagiarized!!!
Me? Obsessed? Nah!


Rain said...

It's strange you should mention this as we were only talking about it a few days.ago. I think it's a wonderful idea.

ra said...

Oh yeah, I could get into this. Sorry to hear about yr ankle, good colours though. You could use it as inspiration for home dying!

nanatoo said...

Hello Tutters, you're blogging again! It's HazelNutcluster here but I ran away from blogger and hide on livejournal now where I can let only friends in ;)

I joined bookcrossing but haven't got round to doing anything about it (if you found you had somebody trying to friend you, lol)

Oh my, that ankle is dreadful. Rain said witchhazel didn't she, we always use arnica and it's truly amazing how that works. Good to see you blogging again anyhow and I'll try to 'cross a book' soon!

Bobbi said...

My family just got started with Geocaching and then I remembered reading this on your blog. We've now joined bookcrossing-with you as our referrer-and plan to release books into geocaches to travel the world. What a great way to combine BOTH activities. Thanks!!!