I have a few things to share with you today. They aren’t books, but you might be interested anyway.
First, last week I discovered a new-to-me concept called postcrossing. (I was alerted to this concept by write meg!. Thank you Meg.) The idea is an international exchange of postcards – yes the really actually hardcopy kind. It’s not pen-pals; you don’t get from the person you give to. But you send postcards to people around the world (and you get a short bio from them so you have something to write about, if you’re having trouble with that part), and then you get them, too! I really like the idea. It means you get snail mail that is pretty, personal, and not bills or catalogs. So, I signed up immediately upon reading Meg’s post and clicking the link; I’m in! And then I sent my first 5 postcards, to Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Taiwan, and Russia. BUT. I didn’t use enough postage, and I didn’t put my return address, either. So guess what? At lunchtime today I’m going to go buy some international postcard stamps and start again :-/ Ah well. I’m still in! And I’m going to get postcards!
So how funny and coincidental that right after discovering postcrossings, I came across a similar project. (Now that I am trying to retrace my steps, I have NO IDEA how I got there. Sorry.) BookCrossing works a lot like postcrossing does: you register and get a unique identifier code for your postcard or book. This allows the postcard or book to be tracked – so if it’s a postcard, you get credit for having sent it, and you get more postcards coming to you. If it’s a book, you can see where its travels take it – if its recipients are logging it on the website, that is. This is much less likely with BookCrossing, it seems to me, because you can just leave books around, wherever, or hand them to random people, who may or may not care to get online and log their receipt of them. I would guess they wouldn’t, very often. Whereas, in postcrossing, the recipient of your card actively requested it, and is actively participating in the same system, whereby one only receives a card if one gets credit for sending cards; therefore I would guess everyone is fairly interested in logging them into the system. (Also, postcrossing recipients, by definition, have internet access and are comfortable with the system. This is not something we can assume when handing out books or leaving them on park benches.)
I think BookCrossing sounds like great fun, but I won’t be joining that one. Why? Several reasons. I think there are a number of similar programs online (PaperBack Swap, for instance), where people can trade and send books around. Another reason that comes to mind was discussed today over at Tales From the Reading Room: people who are not actively seeking out free things (as the postcrossing participants are) don’t necessarily place a high value on them. I think litlove (the above blogger) is right on target when she points out that “free often means without value,” or at least is perceived that way.
But mostly, I guess, I won’t be BookCrossing because it’s sort of what I do for a living, which is a beautiful reason not to play, really. In the hospital where I work, I run a small library that distributes reading materials. We have a nice collection of hardback books that we purchase new, catalog, and circulate just like your local public library; and just like a PL, we want them back and will ask you to pay for them if lost. But we also have a large collection of paperback books, donated by the boxful every day, that freely roam the hospital and beyond. These books are very much playing the BookCrossing game (minus the tracking), and they make a huge difference to our patients, caregivers, visitors, and staff and faculty. It means that there’s always an abundance of free and various reading materials randomly distributed in our little world, and that’s a beautiful thing.