BookCrossing BackStory

I was recently asked how I discovered BookCrossing and got to the point of being so involved as to be on the planning team for an international convention.

Jeez, I dunno. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

Once upon a time, I had a subscription to Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, a publication which highlighted assorted interesting websites. At the end of each issue was a pull-out list of all the URLs mentioned. As I read the stories I’d circle their entries on the list, and then bookmark the sites for later perusal. It could (and often did) take years before I got around to actually visiting the links, but from time to time I’d browse my “check it out” bookmark folder, remove the dead links, and re-file anything I wanted to keep. One of these links was for Photo Tag (or maybe Foto Tag), a project where one leaves a disposable camera out in public with instructions for the person who uses the last exposure to mail it back to the owner. The owner then develops the photographs and posts them online. (Astoundingly, some of the cameras were actually returned!) I can no longer find this site anywhere; I suspect it’s either defunct or I am misremembering its name.

Anyway, one of the links on that page for similar projects was BookCrossing. (WheresGeorge was another, IIRC.) I admit, my first thought when I discovered BC was, “Free books!” I did a little hunting, not realizing that most wild-released books are picked up within hours or even minutes. It took about two months to get my first wild catch, a truly exhilarating experience.

After a while I started attending the monthly BookCrossing meets at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, organized through Meetup. I met some lovely folks this way, but the group was fairly small since it was held on Thursday nights and nowhere near a Metro stop. Once Meetup started charging group organizers for events, the whole thing fell apart: who wants to pay to chat in a public space? Disappointed, I started a Yahoo! Group, but clearly wasn’t disappointed enough to actually plan any get-togethers. The group was very quiet for a long time.

Enter Cookie, recent transplant to the DC area. In July 2007 she held a meet in Waldorf, Maryland. Remembering how much I loved the gatherings at St. Elmo’s, I drove over an hour to attend. I’m glad I did. Almost single-handedly, Cookie re-energized the group, and slowly we gained momentum and members. Soon our group had free-book tables at local festivals like Kensington’s Day of the Book, the Carroll County Book Fair, and the Gaithersburg Book Festival. We held annual joint meetings with local Librarythingamabrarians each fall at the National Book Festival. We met monthly at various locations in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia, plus occasional additional meets with BookCrossers visiting the area.

Then Cookie got a crazy idea.

As one of the largest and most active BookCrossing groups in the country, she suggested we put in a bid to host the annual international convention. Bids are put in two years in advance, so in 2008 we bid to host the 2010 convention. We lost to Amsterdam, but when we bid the next year we won – which was better in a lot of ways, since it meant we got to celebrate the 10th anniversary of BookCrossing. It was during the 2008 bidding process that the name BCinDC was born and one of our members designed the lovely logo we used for the convention.

I have absolutely no idea how I ended up on the convention planning team. It started out as a totally informal thing, then somehow it turned into massive brainstorming sessions on Google Docs, quirky book-collecting sprees, a series of well-researched blog posts, and marathon meetings that lasted long into the night. I nearly had a mental breakdown, to be perfectly honest. As awesome as the convention was when it finally happened, those two years of planning involved a lot of stress and heartache. There were times when I wanted to quit the site entirely. I’m glad I didn’t, because the convention was so totally worth it.

BookCrossing is a lot of fun. It’s fun leaving books in random places for folks to find, it’s fun when the right book finds the right person, and it’s fun to discover new books I never would have come across otherwise. But in the end, it’s the people that keep me coming back. BookCrossers are the most generous people I’ve ever met. It’s not just books (though they are almost aggressively generous with those!), but everything. For example: each year an event called “Holiday Gift Giving” is held on the forums. Basically, you post your wish list, no matter how simple or outrageous, and people can choose whether or not to fulfill any of them. There is no obligation to give and no guarantee to receive, and yet people do both. Whenever I travel, I post on the forums and there is almost always someone who would like to meet up and welcome me. On Sunday morning of the convention, when we had to pack up the book buffets, attendees enthusiastically took on the job without even being asked. I could keep going, but I think you get the gist. We’re connected by a love of books – and not even the same books! – and this nutty hobby of giving away the very books we love. And yet somehow that is enough to form lifelong friendships. I certainly have.

My sister suggested once that BookCrossing is my “tribe.” I think she may be right.

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  1. Wow, I didn’t know a lot of this story, like how instrumental Cookie was or that you originally got it from Yahoo. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story- its always great to hear how people got into BookCrossing.

    I love the idea of bookcrossing as a tribe and I agree that bookcrosser are incredibly generous people :)

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