Thoughts on “The Library Beyond the Book”

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Public libraries, like many institutions, are data-rich but information-poor. In their recent investigation of “the library beyond the book,” Harvard’s Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles muse over the massive data-stream radiated by contemporary libraries: “Every time a book is taken off the shelf, a file is downloaded, or a computer work station is booted up, a story is told, and cataloged, and filed away in a database. In this way, each act of reading in the library broadcasts a handful of seeds, from which new growths of data will either spring—or disappear into a forest of statistical noise” (126). The Reading Chicago Reading project is an attempt to gather, and then model, readership, social media response, textual characteristics, and still other variables, and to cultivate them so that the data-“seeds” of city-wide elective reading are not simply cast to the wind. Focused on capturing reading behavior at city-scale by tying together circulation data and analysis of text features, our project can aims to make a significant contribution to the study of changes in contemporary literary reading and, later perhaps, predictions about future city-scale reading patterns.


See Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, The Library Beyond the Book. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2014.

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