If you stop by Memorial, College or Steenbock Libraries this week, you might notice something different. New displays entice students, faculty, and staff to go on a “blind date” with a book – each book is gift-wrapped in order to hide the author and title. Signs advertising the books urge passersby to “check me out!” and “take me home!”
At Memorial Library, Beth Harper got the idea from a news story about a public library that did a similar program. She and Paloma Celis-Carbajal worked together to gather recommended reads from library staff, who also wrote the “personal ads” for their chosen books. Now in its fourth year, the annual display has proven so successful at Memorial Library that the concept has expanded to Steenbock and College Libraries.
“People really had a good time writing the ads– it’s kind of fun to think about how to write a teaser for a favorite book without giving anything away,” said Beth.
A student assistant at College Library, Syaza Noor Azmi, suggested they try a version with books geared specifically for undergrads. Syaza thought such a display would be a great way to get people to try out reading new genres, and installing it around Valentine’s Day would be perfect because “a blind date with a new book does seem romantic.” Taking this idea and implementing it fell to Nong Thao, an ISIP intern who is working with the Open Book Collection this semester. Nong designed the poster, selected the first fifteen books for the display, and wrapped the titles in brown craft paper to preserve their anonymity.
While libraries are typically a hub for serious scholarship, the atmosphere benefits from a bit of fun once in awhile, especially in the midst of a temperamental winter. “We thought this would be a good way to bring something fun and light to a serious library,” Paloma said.
In addition to adding an element of mystery and surprise, Beth notes a more egalitarian goal for the display: breaking a reading rut. “It’s interesting to consider how gendered our reading choices can be– how we get stuck reading only books from a man’s or a woman’s point of view, or by writers of our own race. Even just the same genre over and over.” The Blind Date with a Book display breaks down that initial impulse to stick to what you know. Instead, readers choose books based on intriguing personal ads and might find themselves enjoying a story they wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.
The hardest part about the display is keeping up with demand, according to Pamela O’Donnell, who is overseeing the project at College Library. “Blind Date with a Book has been so popular that in less than a week we’ve had to restock it twice.” Readers are encouraged to tweet with a first impression of the book they took home. @philo_sophia wrote, “Reading Road to Perdition and loving it! <3.”
The displays are located just inside the entrances at Memorial and Steenbock Libraries, and just inside the Open Book Café at College Library.