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Lost, Found and Read: BookCrossing as a Global Phenomenon

By Dan Stahl

Last month PP’s Ed Nawotka asked: “What will I feel, if I divest myself of a lifetime of accumulated memories, hopes, and dreams represented by my [print] books?” As the comments section shows, he’s not alone in his apprehensiveness.

The source of trepidation among book lovers varies. Some fear losing what a book represents when they part with the thing itself. Others cherish the look and feel of it.

An international network called BookCrossing recognizes the difficulty of relinquishing a beloved book. Even better, it may have a solution. Designed to facilitate the free exchange of books around the world, BookCrossing was a labor of love from the beginning. Co-founder Ron Hornbaker recounts on BookCrossing.com that books “possessed elements of emotional attachment and strong opinion; books were not only items collected and revered, but were intrinsically shared.” Yet, no such a site existed to facilitate this very primal activity.

Eleven years later, sharing remains the governing principle of BookCrossing. The process is simple. First, a person chooses a book to “release.” Then she (or he) registers it on BookCrossing.com, which generates a BookCrossing ID. After labeling the book with its BCID, she either leaves it somewhere for another person to find or simply gives it away. The new owner picks it up, reads it, reports the find on BookCrossing.com, and passes it on again. Through the website and its community, the original owner can keep in touch with her book as it travels.

And what travels! Though based in Sandpoint, Idaho, BookCrossing has gone global. A breakdown of its 1,204,763 members shows that 71% live outside the United States — facilitating the company’s choice of Dublin, Ireland as the host city for the 2012 Book Crossing Convention this past April and next year’s convention in Gothenburg, Sweden for 2013.

Part of the practice’s appeal is its versatility. Last February the Tasmanian Department of Education announced that it would tap BookCrossing as a way to promote reading. In May the Koltsovo International Airport in Ekaterinburg, Russia launched a book exchange service that allows passengers to pick up reading material at their gate and release it at the baggage claim.

Each new crossing is a reason for bibliophiles to breathe a sigh of relief. No, the solution BookCrossing offers them isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, its book database and community gives them a way to hold on if they let go.

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