Smelly old books

I read a newspaper article about the science of the smell of old books (The Guardian, 7 April 2017). This explains that those very distinctive and evocative smells that we experience when we open an old book, or even just enter a room with lots of them in it, are linked to the chemical composition of books and what happens when they slowly decay. The description of these smells as being similar to coffee or wood, or being burnt or earthy resonated with me. These are all natural substances or processes and ones that I am interested in and comfortable exploring in my practice. The smell of a book is affected by the way it was produced and from what materials, which depends on its age. Also of importance is how it has been kept, whether it has travelled and by what means.

These old book smells are definitely present when you enter the Fifth-Sized Book collection at Newcastle Library. Removing a book from the shelf and opening it up is most definitely a multi-sensory experience.

4 thoughts on “Smelly old books

  1. Ah … old books. I was once researching in a public collection, accessing old records that held strong odors. One of them seemed to catch me in the throat, and brought me down with a dreadful flu-like illness some days later. Now wary!

  2. I am intrigued by the words ‘Fifth-Sized Book’, is this a proper term used in libraries or a title for the exhibition? I am so interested in following your creative journey for the Fifth-size Book exhibition.

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