Changing the World, One Book at a Time

The little running book is Bally, the Bookcrossing mascot.

A pen pal recently asked me to explain Bookcrossing, and that made me wonder if my blog readers might like to know more about it too. The official scoop, of course, is on the Bookcrossing website. But I can provide some highlights.

WHAT IS BOOKCROSSING?
Bookcrossing is a fun way to turn the whole world into a library. And I do mean the whole world. We have nearly 2 million members, in 132 countries. It’s free to join. In fact, you can do all of this for free, though there are also Bookcrossing supplies you can order from the site if you like. And you use a screen name, so you don’t have to give your real name if you don’t want to, though it’s always felt like a safe site to me. The idea is to give books away by leaving them somewhere to find new readers, and then to be able to keep track of where they go as others pick them up.

This is a Bookcrossing ID sticker. This is one I designed myself and uploaded to the site to have printed and sent to me as custom ID stickers. The site also offers many designs ready to order, including fancy ones like this or minimalist stickers that have a space for the BCID (Bookcrossing ID), the website URL, and not much else. Making and printing our your own is also an option.

HOW TO RELEASE A BOOK
Start with a book you want to release out into the world — a book you’re finished with or have a double of, or on you’ve realized you’re just never going to get around to reading. You register it on the website and receive a unique ID number for it. Write the number on a sticker that goes inside the front cover (or wherever else makes sense). Or write the ID number directly on the book, if you prefer. You can pay to order the stickers through the site, or make up your own from scratch. Personally, I like the premade stickers, which explain the whole process, though sometimes I make my own stickers instead.

You can also put a post-it on the book cover saying something like the one above. Various designs (and languages) are available form the website, or you can write it yourself on a plain Post-it.

You can give the book to a friend if you want, which is called a “controlled release.” Or you can “release it into the wild” — leave it somewhere to find its next reader.

Here’s how that works: You leave the book wherever you want — for example, at a bus stop, in a coffee shop, in a Little Free Library, or in a hotel lobby — and you note on the site that you have released it. (For releases outdoors, you can slip it into a ziplock bag — use a regular one or order one from the site with the Bookcrossing logo on it.) A lot of the time, you’ll never hear about the book again. But sometimes a person who picks it up will follow the instructions on the sticker, go to the site, plug in the ID number, and make a journal entry for the book. The site will notify you that the book has been “caught.”

The person who catches it can log onto the site as a guest, or can join the site if he or she is not already a member. You will receive the screen name or learn that the book was journaled anonymously.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BOOK NEXT
The person can read the book, can journal it again with a book review (this is all optional), and then can either keep it, give it to a friend, donate it somewhere, or release it into the wild again.

These are the two sides of a Bookcrossing bookmark (authorauthor is my own Bookcrossing screen name).

Every time a book that has passed through your hands is journaled again on the site, you’ll receive a notification. That means you can watch as your books travel around! And they do travel. I’ve had my released books turn up in the Netherlands, Peru, China, and Nepal! And, of course, all over the U.S. I do like releasing them at spots frequented by travelers, like hotel lobbies. That probably increases the chances of them traveling out of town.

HOW TO CATCH A BOOK
Bookcrossing isn’t just about giving books away. You can also use it as a source for free books to read. Tell the website that you want to be notified if any books are released in a particular geographic area, and you’ll get alerts when a book is released near you, so you can rush over to catch it before anyone else does!

WHAT ELSE DO BOOKCROSSERS DO?
You can do this as little or as much as you like. Some Bookcrossers release only a few books a year. Others release hundreds. There are also a lot of other activities you can choose to get involved in, if you want: online forums for book-related subjects, release challenges (for example, release a book this week with a color in the title, or release books about animals), and a holiday gift exchange. It’s all optional.

For me, the best thing about Bookcrossing is the community. As with everything else, meeting other Bookcrossers is entirely your choice. Nobody will fault you for quietly releasing and catching books and never saying anything to anyone about it. But Bookcrossing is a great way to find not only reading material, but also friends who love books.

My local Bookcrossing group is very active. We meet every month (via Zoom this year) to swap books, talk about books, and just hang out. There are no officers, no bylaws, no votes, and no rules. Just a lot of fun people who love to swap books, and usually one person who’s offered to take the lead on coordinating meetings for a while. We run Free Books tables at book festivals (again, not this year). Most of the time when we get together in person, we have a “Book Buffet” — a table piled high with BC-registered books. We all bring one or more (usually more) and then pore over all the other books and take what we want. Bookcrossing has its own form of magical math: everyone seems to take more than they brought, but there are always more books. We are convinced that Bookcrossing books multiply when we’re not paying attention. We also open up the Book Buffet to anyone else who happens to be in the cafe where we’re meeting. And there are always more than enough books to go around.

There is also an annual International Bookcrossing Convention. The only time I’ve been is when we hosted it here in Northern Virginia. It’s usually overseas, in the spring; someday I’d love to go to one in another country.

This may sound terribly involved and time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to be. I know overachieving Bookcrossers who’ve released 10,000 books, attended every conference, and take part in many release challenges. But I suspect most Bookcrossers just release a book now and then, and occasionally catch a released book.

I’m “authorauthor” on the Bookcrossing site. If you join, put me on your friends list.

I love these Bookcrossing book spine stickers. Every book I register and every Bookcrossing book I catch gets a spine sticker, so I can tell at a glance which books on my shelves are BC books.

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