pencil on vellum
each drawing is 14” x 11”

 

There is something intoxicating about picking up a book that has been well-used and annotated by many other readers. As a reader, my experience of that book is intertwined with theirs; I add my annotations to the pages, sometimes picking up entirely different threads of interest and sometimes aligning with what someone before me has also prioritized. Alongside annotations are stamps recording where the books have travelled, antiquated due-date cards keeping track of borrowers, stains, things crossed out, bookplates, and dedications. This past year where, for the most part, my research experience has been mediated by eBooks and PDFs, I have missed reading alongside this extraneous analog information. 

In this project, I looked at the front-matter of books available through Western University’s online library catalogue. I was interested specifically in books that were not available as traditionally published eBooks, created and standardized by the publishers, but in books that had been scanned. For the most part, this entailed narrowing my search to books published before 1950 and by relatively unknown authors. In their transition from physical objects to digital ones, these books retained some of the awkward extra pages, texture, and metadata recording information about their cataloging. A digital record, which keeps track of these characteristics as fields, makes the pencil notes and stamps redundant, but they persist nonetheless. 

I created drawings of stamps, annotations, signatures, bookplates, donation records and the other strange information carried in these pages. I interpret these small interventions as records of human touch, making unique a book that is mass published. I did not seek out particular types of books, so the front pages of science textbooks coexist with books of poetry, gardening guides, seminal philosophy texts, children’s stories, and more.