May 17, 2022

Book Traces: A New Crowdsourced Project Collecting Marginalia and Inserts in 19th and Early 20th Century Books

Here’s a new project that we think will be of interest to many of our readers.

Book Traces is utilizing crowdsourcing, “aimed at identifying unique copies of nineteenth and early twentieth-century books on library shelves.  Our focus is on customizations made by original owners in personal copies, primarily in the form of marginalia and inserts.”

Users take pictures of the marginalia and other customizations and upload them to the Book Traces site.

The project is sponsored by:

  • NINES (A Project/Database Aggregating Access to 19th Century Scholarship; 867,000 Digital Objects From 167 Sites) at the University of Virginia

and is under the direction of Andrew Stauffer (also Director of NINES).

From the Book Traces Web Site:

Book Traces is meant to engage the question of the future of the print record in the wake of wide-scale digitization.  The issue is particularly urgent for the materials from the long nineteenth century.  In most cases, pre-1800 books have been moved to special collections, and post-1923 materials remain in copyright and thus on the shelves for circulation

We believe that, as libraries begin to manage down their print holdings, special attention should be paid to these historical materials, which in many cases came to university libraries from alumni donors and bear marks of use by their original nineteenth-century owners.  These books thus constitute a massive, distributed archive of the history of reading, hidden in plain sight in the circulating collections.  Marginalia, inscriptions, photos, original manuscripts, letters, drawings, and many other unique pieces of historical data can be found in individual copies, many of them associated with the history of the institution that collected the books in the first place.  These unique attributes cannot be located by any electronic catalog.

Direct to Instructions/FAQ (Including How/Where to Submit Images of Marginalia and Other Material)

At the time were posting this item the collection has material from five books online.

See Also: Annotation of Digital Material is Becoming a Popular Topic
Here’s material and video from a recent W3C symposium on the subject that was organized by

See Also: Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins (Feb. 20, 2011; via NY Times)

See Also: The Marginal Obsession With Marginalia (January 26, 2012 via The New Yorker)

Source: Multiple Tweets

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.