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Book Traces
Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library

Andrew M. Stauffer

288 pages | 6 x 9 | 36 illus.
Cloth 2021 | ISBN 9780812252682 | $49.95s | Outside the Americas £40.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Material Texts
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"Andrew Stauffer focuses on the smallest traces of reader response—pencil marks left in the margins, brackets inked around significant words, leaves and flowers pressed between pages—to write a book about some of the biggest issues facing libraries and the study of historical literary cultures today...Stauffer’s study not only points to new ways of engaging with historical readers and reading practices; it also encourages us to rethink and reaffirm the value of physical library collections in a digital age."—Library & Information History

"This is a beautiful, elegant work: an intimate journey into the poetry of nineteenth-century readers' lives and books and an eloquent defense of libraries and the humanities."—Michael C. Cohen, author of The Social Lives of Poems in Nineteenth-Century America

In most college and university libraries, materials published before 1800 have been moved into special collections, while the post-1923 books remain in general circulation. But books published between these dates are vulnerable to deaccessioning, as libraries increasingly reconfigure access to public-domain texts via digital repositories such as Google Books. Even libraries with strong commitments to their print collections are clearing out the duplicates, assuming that circulating copies of any given nineteenth-century edition are essentially identical to one another. When you look closely, however, you see that they are not.

Many nineteenth-century books were donated by alumni or their families decades ago, and many of them bear traces left behind by the people who first owned and used them. In Book Traces, Andrew M. Stauffer adopts what he calls "guided serendipity" as a tactic in pursuit of two goals: first, to read nineteenth-century poetry through the clues and objects earlier readers left in their books and, second, to defend the value of keeping the physical volumes on the shelves. Finding in such books of poetry the inscriptions, annotations, and insertions made by their original owners, and using them as exemplary case studies, Stauffer shows how the physical, historical book enables a modern reader to encounter poetry through the eyes of someone for whom it was personal.

Andrew M. Stauffer is Associate Professor of English at University of Virginia.

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