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Are books smelly?

I keep hearing people talking about how they love the feel and the smell of books and that sometimes this trumps the allure of e-books for them.

That’s interesting!

Should we be adding Real-Book-Smell to the next generation of e-readers?

Smell or scent is a powerful memory aid. I still get drawn rapidly back into my childhood camping memories whenever I smell an old-fashioned rubber air mattress or the scent of tent tarp mixed with spider web.

When people are telling us they like the smell of books and libraries is this what is happening? Are they actually recalling the sweet experiences of youth and visits to the library when life was fun and grand? Is this something we can tap? Perhaps we can hire a perfume manufacturer to create Old-Book-Smell cologne or air freshener for our libraries. Hey, we might even be able to get Old Spice Guy to endorse it!

So what are the components of this book smell? It would have to include:

1. Glue: The smell of drying and rotting toxic glue from many eras. We’ll have to find a safer alternative for the scented version.
2. Dust: The layers of dust accumulated in any library that fly about. The principal component of dust being sloughed off human skin should be easy to acquire cheap and it can be advertised as ‘natural’.
3. Mould: Libraries are loaded with mould in our books and carpets. Again, this is natural and should be easy to acquire.
4. Ink: Recent changes to printers’ ink has removed much of the lead and most are now vegetable based. We would need to find some mix that allows for the scent of the modern and the old ink that combines in your average library. Maybe library book smells are different for the generations too.
5. Dryness: And wrap all of this scent up in a dry air environment that allows for the scent to hang alluringly in the air that has been robbed of humidity by the paper in the books.

There. Now how do we start to create this scent?

Women’s College Hospital in Toronto announced today that they were banning all newspapers and magazines in the hospital waiting areas before the coming cold and flu season because they cannot be adequately sanitized. Some surveys show that one small barrier to library use is germophobia among some people who do not care to share public books. I suppose that could be slyly promoted as another benefit of e-books since we need only worry about those viruses that don’t pass to humans and we can sanitize our e-readers.

Maybe we should be adding e-reader wipes to the circ desk next to the hand sanitizer. . .

Tongue firmly in cheek . . .


Posted on: November 9, 2010, 10:51 am Category: Uncategorized

13 Responses

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  1. Olfactory reading experiences are the future…the future, Mr. Gittes.

  2. Sara Kelly Johns said

    Scratch and sniff? Then it’s a choice 😉

  3. My first professional job as a librarian was in a library that had a “fumigation room” in the basement. It was being used as storage but had been built when tuberculosis, measles, mumps, etc. were greatly feared and treatments were not like today’s. If books were returned from homes where there was illness, they were fumigated before being re-shelved.

  4. Judith Norton said

    Smell of Books ( used to offer five scents for e-books.

    – New Book Smell
    – Classic Musty
    – Crunchy Bacon Scent
    – Scent of Sensibility
    and my personal favorite:
    – Eau, You Have Cats

    Unfortunately, some cans actually contained New Car Smell and had to be recalled – significantly impacting sales projections. The final sniff that deodorified the products was when the Authors Guild sent a threatening letter to Smell of Books’ parent company, expressing concern over licensing aroma rights.

    To quote:
    “It is important to note that in the digital era, books, and the smell of books, have been decoupled. In the future we expect authors to participate in the development of custom aromas for their books. These olfactory rights constitute a derivative right to be licensed separately. The preservation of these rights is essential as authors explore new markets and distribution channels.”

    As of April, 2009, all products have been withdrawn.

  5. When I was an exchange student in France, my host mother actually cooked some used books that I bought at a flea market, to kill the germs on them.

  6. And in the future, you have to add the smell of coffee to emulate the powerhouse book stores and coffee houses that today’s readers will back fondly look back on. It’s not the smell, but the sound of crinkling mylar thats a turn on for me!

  7. Marti Pike said

    What I always disliked was when I knew that the person before me had read the book while smoking. I hope you won’t put tobacco on your list!

  8. Like thousands of other readers, i want BOTH digital and print. I want the REAL smells, the REAL paper, the REAL covers, ALL OF IT, in addition to digital when researching or traveling. Check out this recent opinion piece in The Washington Post:

  9. Call the people who created Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans as part of the Harry Potter marketing efforts! I bet they would be great allies in determining what non-toxic ingredients could simulate “glue,” “dust,” “mould,” etc. After all, they create bogie-flavored jelly beans, so someone among them had to decide what a bogie tastes like and how to replicate that taste with food-grade ingredients. *shudder*

  10. don’t forget sour milk — a staple of children’s books everywhere.

  11. Don’t forget the smell of old leather . . . it adds to the musty dust smell. 😉 The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  12. Steve Johnson said

    I am less disturbed by explanations of the smell of books and rooms full of books than by the mostly hidden environmental damage which is a by product of contemporary computer and communciations technology. From mining to manufacturing to disposal, it is in part a toxic mess far more important than shed skin, dust and mold.

    I am a technology buff who also associates good things with the smell of book-filled rooms.