November 12, 2014

Finding a “message in a bottle” in Google book scans


Illustration through folded tissue from the Art of Google Books Tumblr.

Illustration through folded tissue from “The Art of Google Books” Tumblr.

We’ve written about when book scanners go wrong on this blog, and we’ve also covered the controversy and lawsuits over Google’s decision to scan books.

But somewhere in the midst of all of that, someone named Krissy Wilson has started a TumblrThe Art of Google Books, dedicated to the ways that Google’s scanners have caught traces of human presence among those books—many of which have probably been checked out of the library many times. As a Fast Company post notes:

Wilson’s Tumblr explores the intersection of the human and digital in scanned books, the traces that people have left behind on otherwise sterile works: stains, rips, and badly scanned, crumpled pages. Most fascinating are the ephemera of the physical library system; the stamps, due dates, slips and signed names that feel unbelievably antiquated, though they’re still in use many places today. Many critics of the Internet have bemoaned what ebooks will do to our reading experience, but if anything, the pervasiveness of pristine digital copies only makes encounters with yesterday’s readers more meaningful—like discovering a message in a bottle.

From images through folded tissue, to torn pages, scribbles, warped pages and recipes, this delightful Tumblr reminds me of the wall of found objects in books at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn.


This image from “The Art of Google Books” Tumblr proves that the Google Books employee ripped a page.




Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.