A Haunted House and Other Stories
Graphite and carbon copy on paper
297 x 420 mm

These drawings were made as part of a project for the New Modernist Editing Network at the University of Glasgow. I wrote the text below for the exhibition catalogue.

A Haunted House and Other Stories

These drawings are a record of all the copies of Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Haunted House and Other Short Stories’ that were available in Edinburgh libraries in May 2021 – a time when many libraries were still closed, or else in use as Covid vaccination centres. The title of the 1944 collection is the premise for exploring, in a very localised way, a material history of modern reading; the book as a thing haunted by its readers, and the text as a work in progress.

I have always liked to check the ‘return by’ slip at the front to see the borrowing history of a book, and the drawings are a tribute to these increasingly obsolete relics of an analogue age. With barcodes and laser scanning replacing date stamps, we are now in the process of losing an aspect of a book’s unique materiality that has been part of book borrowing throughout the 20th century. While this is part of the much bigger picture of digital technology replacing paper record-keeping, in the context of this exhibition the drawings also draw attention to the book as a physical object of social exchange.

The drawings make use of materials with links to analogue methods of printing and reproduction, incorporating a mix of graphite surface transfers, tracings, and carbon paper copying. They explore paper as a repository for signs of physical handling. Different sorts of text are integrated into drawings that flatten out the layers of printed labels, handwriting, inserts, and barcode stickers into a single image with a complex surface.

When they become redundant as due-by reminders, date slips become curiosities. Browsing the inside covers of books in Edinburgh University Library, where barcode scanning replaced date stamping a few years ago, you struggle to find evidence of anyone borrowing anything since about 2015. As the gap between these dates and the present day widens, yesterday’s readers will increasingly seem to belong to the past; to a period in the life of the book, and in the history of the modern library.