The Art of Google Books

Have you seen the Art of Google Books Tumblr? I love the concept, especially, as we start becoming accustomed to thinking of digital scanning as part of the new existence of older print and ink books, the notion of “rephotography” is an interesting one.

About The Art of Google Books:

“The aim of this project is twofold; to recognize book digitization as rephotography, and to value the signs of use that accompany these texts as worthy of documentation and study.”

If you browse through the entries, you can find images of bookplates, marginalia, pages captured in mid-motion of book scanning, and the stray finger. But, is it art?

Here were two of my favorites —

“Not to Leave Library”, with some echoes of “This is not a pipe”? The Tumblr caption reads: “Stamp reading “Not to leave library”; statement contradicted by digitization and subsequent digital distribution.”

“This book is fragile” — a fitting statement about the fragility of both paper, and the digital? The Tumblr caption reads:

“Library’s statements on fragility are both contradictory and appropriate given digitization and digital distribution; the book is still fragile in the sense that it is digital (hence, ephemeral), and it “circulates only with permission” under the jurisdiction of Google Books, but it also no longer needs to be handled with particular care, and there are certainly no staff members that need to be consulted before one obtains a photocopy (PDF) of the book.”


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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