Book Traces @ UVA resources

Looking for more information on Book Traces @ UVA?

For a detailed overview including a description of our protocol and an account of the lessons learned and benefits derived from the project, download our white paper from Libra Open.

To explore the raw data collected during our shelf surveys at the University of Virginia, go to the Book Traces @ UVA database. Data can be searched and filtered via a web interface, downloaded as comma-separated values, or accessed via API calls.

You can also use the UVA Library online catalog, Virgo, to search for books identified by Book Traces @ UVA as having marginalia, insertions, or other unique modifications. Search for “Book Traces Project” as an associated author and you will be able to further narrow your search using keywords or the catalog facets. As of this writing (in June 2018), the addition of Book Traces metadata to the catalog is not yet complete; a fuller list of books identified by the project can be found in the Book Traces @ UVA database.

The Book Traces @ UVA Twitter account is intermittently active, tweeting examples of marginalia and related news.

If you are looking for general information about Andrew Stauffer’s ongoing Book Traces project, including books found at institutions other than the University of Virginia, go to

ASU Book Traces: project led by Devoney Looser finds “fascinating stuff”

We’re delighted to see this article in ASU Now, “Exploring value of print in the digital age,” about the Book Traces project at Arizona State University led by Devoney Looser. Here is an excerpt:

“We’re finding fascinating stuff,” said Looser, a professor in the Department of English and organizer of ASU Book Traces, a project with ASU Library that aims to highlight the value of library print collections — as well as new ways of engaging with them — precisely at a time when many are being reduced in size.

“One of the clearest trends in academic libraries is the rethinking of print collections,” said Lorrie McAllister, who was recently appointed associate university librarian for collections and strategy at ASU Library, and is helping to facilitate projects such as Book Traces in addition to a new partnership with MIT on the future of academic library print collections.

“Professor Looser’s project demonstrates that there is still interest and passion for the many technologies used in book design over many centuries, its utility and historical significance as a format and preservation mechanism, and the physicality of the medium as an engagement and research tool,” McAllister said.

Book Traces @ UVA at the ALA Annual Conference

On June 26, three librarians from the University of Virginia gave a presentation on Book Traces @ UVA to a keenly interested audience at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The presentation, which was sponsored by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, was written up the next day on the American Libraries Magazine website. The article by George M. Eberhart quoted Arts and Humanities Director Christine Ruotolo, Director of Preservation Services Kara McClurken, and Director of Acquisitions and Discovery Jennifer Roper on the importance of discovering marginalia “hidden in plain sight” among our collections and some of the practicalities of how we are running the project.

Perhaps the most important paragraph in the article is the last one:

“Other institutions have signaled an interest in conducting similar projects. Libraries at Columbia University and the University of Miami have hosted Book Traces days, inviting students to search their stacks for uniquely modified volumes. Roper said that one of the next steps is to see whether it is possible to set up a scalable initiative so other libraries can do the same thing without a CLIR grant. . . .  McClurken said, ‘Just because two books have the same OCLC record does not mean they have the same value.'”


Book Traces Day at the University of Miami

On September 24, the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami hosted a Book Traces day. The two principal investigators for Book Traces @ U.Va., Kara McClurken and Andrew Stauffer, traveled to Miami to give guest presentations on Book Traces and how the project has influenced preservation work at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library. The Richter Library stacks were open all day for student searchers to hunt for “hidden treasures” in the collection.

Here is one of the highlights from an article about the event by the Miami Hurricane:

“Book Traces is a project to get students to think about the book as an object and not just a source of textual information,” said Special Collections Librarian Jay Sylvestre, who helped organize the event. “All the parts of a book, from the cover, to the illustrations, to any notes added by readers, tells us a story. Book Traces helps students find and follow that story.”

The students found numerous examples of unique copies in the Richter collection, with marginalia and other reader interventions ranging from the cheerfully comic to the touchingly tragic. It has been great for us to see the number of unique copies uncovered in the stacks during one-day Book Traces exercises at Columbia University and now Miami. It goes to show that the U.Va. collection is not unique in having numerous donated books with artifactual value.

If you are interested in hosting a Book Traces day at your library, please contact Prof. Stauffer.

Andrew Stauffer discusses Book Traces on “With Good Reason”

Professor Andrew Stauffer of the University of Virginia, one of the two co-principal investigators for Book Traces @ U.Va., recently gave an interview about the larger Book Traces project on the radio show With Good Reason. When interviewer Allison Quantz asked about the origins of the project, Stauffer explained how a class exercise in the library led to a more methodical search:

I began looking systematically through the books of poetry in Alderman Library at the University of Virginia and finding all sorts of amazing things. It was as if no one had ever looked for this before but as soon as you started looking for it, it was everywhere. People wrote in their books all the time in the nineteenth century. It was a way to keep journals, to establish reactions to reading. I mean we still write in books now, but I think the practices were different in different historical periods and we learned a lot from that.

You can listen to the interview here (it will be the first segment when you press play).

An Introduction to Book Traces @ U.Va.

“Grant Boosts Efforts to Catalog Secrets Hidden in Old Library Books,” an article published in U.Va. Today, provides a nice introduction to the project–formerly called Hidden in Plain Sight–that has turned into Book Traces @ U.Va.

Associate Professor of English Andrew Stauffer began a crowd-sourced project, “Book Traces,” earlier this year to preserve this hidden literary life of the 19th century before many older volumes get moved off of library shelves. He considers the project an “intervention” to retrieve these fragile copies that reveal aspects of social life, the history of reading and uses of the book.

Now Stauffer has teamed with Kara McClurken, head of the University Library’s preservation services, to expand the recovery effort. The Council on Library and Information Resources recently awarded them a two-year, $221,000 grant for their project, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” to discover, describe and preserve unique pre-1923 books in the circulating collection.

After the 1895 Rotunda fire destroyed U.Va.’s library, many people donated their own books to rebuild the collection, McClurken said.

Like many readers, “I used to think that things written in books were nothing but a defacement,” she said.

Then McClurken met Stauffer this summer in a Rare Book School class in the library. Through their conversations, she began to understand there were important things to be learned from the marginalia and artifacts found on the pages. The historical evidence “has a role to play” in scholarly research, she said.

With the grant, library staff members will seek to identify subject areas that are most likely to have marginalia. They’ll work on a process to record the information and enter it into the online catalogue; at U.Va., that’s Virgo. Because many of the volumes are fragile, they’ll figure out how best to preserve them. Another goal is to make sure other academic libraries can use the process.

Read the full article on the U.Va. Today website.