Introduction: Share and Track Your Books Using BookCrossing

About: I like to tinker. I'm a co-founder and active participant of my local hackerspace: Hack42 in Arnhem, the Netherlands. You can also find me on under the name Moem.

BookCrossing is a website that allows you to assign unique numbers to your books, and use these numbers to track your books as they travel across the globe. Of course, this gets a lot more exciting if your books actually get to leave your shelves and go places. One great way to make that happen is to 'release them into the wild'... in other words, leave them behind in public places for others to find.

Don't we all have books that we don't really care about anymore... because they're not to our taste (anymore), because we have two copies, or simply because we've read them and already know who dunnit? Those are excellent candidates for BookCrossing. And I'll show you how.

This I'ble is dedicated to my mother, who said to me, almost ten years ago: I saw a website that I think you will like. She was right, as mothers tend to be. Here I am, with 6000+ books registered on BookCrossing, and the end is not in sight.
She also gives me books that she doesn't want anymore, so I can set them free. And she is the person who got me into books and reading in the first place.
My mother is not a BookCrosser, but we could call her a BookCrossing enabler: together we've released books in Lisbon, Barcelona, St. Petersburg and Moscow to name just a few, and we will release books together in Berlin very soon.
So: mom, this one is for you. It's all your fault.

Yellow running book logo: ®; used here with permission.

Step 1: Let's Get Started

First of all, join BookCrossing. It's free, unless you want a Wings membership, which gives you some nice extras just like a Pro membership here; just like here on Instructables, the basic features are free to use. Of course you can always decide to support the site and get some bells and whistles by opting for a Wings membership later.

BookCrossing does not share your email address with anyone, so don't worry about spam. It uses a Private Messaging system that will let you exchange messages with other members, without giving your email address away. In other words, your address remains private, as it should.

Picking a screenname can be a bit of a challenge because so many good ones are taken already. Try using some numbers, or a hyphen or underscore. Keep in mind that others will be able to see the name you have chosen.
Once your account has gone through, you should get an e-mail with a link to verify and activate the account.

If you wish, you can now liven up your profile with some information about yourself and a picture.

Step 2: Find Some Books and Register Them

Find some books that you are willing to part with. Bear in mind that you will probably not hear back from them soon, and possibly never: about 15 - 20 % of books that are released into the wild get a journal entry from a finder, reporting it as found. BookCrossing depends on serendipity, it's a game of chance; if you're okay with that and willing to take your chances, then go ahead.

However, it's also good to remember that books that aren't journalled may still very well be found, read and appreciated. Many released books take months or years to check in, and then surprise the releaser with a journal entry that shows that someone out there is loving your book, and you have made hirs day.

So what kinds of books are suitable? Almost all kinds. Every book that you can imagine someone being happier because of finding it is a good BookCrossing book. Romance, thrillers, non-fiction, children's books: if you think someone out there will enjoy it, it's fine.
The book definitely does not need to look new, but it needs to be complete, and solid enough to withstand the hardships of travel. It doesn't matter whether or not you have read it.

Please resist the urge to register library books: those aren't yours, and you can't and should not label them. So tracking them is not feasible.

After registering a book, the site will give you an unique tracking number for it., called a BCID (BookCrossing IDentification number).

Step 3: Dress Your Book Up

Now it's time to label your book. The label generally goes inside the front cover, where it's likely to be noticed, but unlikely to be ripped out. You can buy labels on, print your own, or even write a few lines in by hand. An example of a suitable text:

Hello Kind Reader,

Just a quick note that I've registered this book at, so that I can keep up on where it goes, who reads it, and what they thought of it. Please visit to make a quick journal entry, then pass the book along to someone else who will appreciate it. We can all track this book's journey and the lives it touches forever more!

Thank You!

Note the x-es. That's where the BCID goes. If you are using a label, make sure the BCID is written or printed on that, too.

The outside of the book needs some attention as well: it should always be clear to finders that the book was not lost, but left on purpose and that yes, they can take it home. So I always put some kind of sticker or label on the front cover and ideally on the spine as well. You'll find some simple free, downloadable examples here, but the BC Supply Store offers them too.
You can also use brightly coloured sticky notes and write a few words on them.

In addition, I like to write the BCID on the bottom edge of the book: it's almost impossible to remove, yet it doesn't interfere with reading. Sharpies are great for this.
Add the website address to that, by writing it down or using a stamp, and you can be pretty sure your book will never lose its tracking number.

Step 4: Consider the Location

Are you planning to leave your book outside? Is there a chance that it may rain? Then put it inside a plastic bag. Ziplock bags work really well.

So what are good spots to release (leave) a book? Here are some examples:
  • waiting rooms
  • statues (maybe in an outstretched bronze hand?)
  • telephone booths
  • bus stops
  • hanging from a tree (treeleases are fun!)
  • park benches
  • on a train
What are some places that are probably less suitable?
  • on someone's car (private property, and the owner may not be a reader)
  • on top of or very close to a garbage bin (too risky!)
  • inside a store that sells books (too much chance of the finder being accused of stealing)
  • in an airport (your book may look like a Suspicious Package)
  • on a train that's near its end station (the cleaners will remove it)
  • in a mailbox of someone you don't know (may be illegal, and the owner may feel targeted or even stalked)
In short, use your common sense as well as your sense of adventure.

Step 5: Leave a Paper Trail

Or in this case, a digital trail.

If you want your release recorded in the history of the book, and visible to others on the BookCrossing website (so they can go hunting, and maybe catch your book!), make a release note.
You'll find a link to the page where you can do this on the Home menu, and also underneath every book as it is listed on your Bookshelf page. If you don't see the books, open the white drop down list at the right and select 'All Books'.

Unless you are giving or mailing your book directly to a known person, this is a Wild Release, so record it as such. Just follow the steps that allow you to enter the place and time of your release. The book will then appear on the Go Hunting pages for your area.

You can make Release Notes before or after the fact; both are fine. For most of us, it depends on whether or not we already know where we're leaving the book.
If you are making Release Notes ahead of time, you can enter the planned or likely time of release; the book will appear on the Go Hunting pages at the time you are setting.

In either case, make sure to fill in all the fields, or you'll get an error.

Step 6: Letting Go

This is it, the Real Thing: the actual release.
It's exciting, isn't it? People may see you. They may think you're crazy, or littering. They may even run after you, shouting that you forgot your book.

You can simply smile and say 'No, that's not mine... that's for someone to find'. In which case you may have some explaining to do. Or if you're shy, you can take it and say 'thank you', then re-release the book at another time or place.
In any case: you'll live, and you'll get over it.

A great way to avoid this is to be very deliberate and not stealthy at all. Plop the book down in full view, take a picture (you can add it to your release notes later!), nod, then turn and walk away.

Then again, the stealthy approach is fun too: it makes you feel like a secret agent on a sneaky mission of literacy.
Just do whatever feels right.

Step 7: Cold Feet?

Think it's a bit scary to leave your book outside, or are you eager to catch a book of your own? Maybe there is an OBCZ in your area: an Official BookCrossing Zone. This means a place where you will generally find some BC books, and that's being maintained and stocked by one or more local members. You will find them marked with a special icon on the Go Hunting pages.

If you really like the idea, you can even start your own!

Step 8: More Fun With Releases

Releasing books is fun... especially if you make it so. You could consider a themed release: leave your book in a place, or in a way, that corresponds with the title or author name.
Leave romance books behind on Valentine's Day or horror books on Hallowe'en, leave 'The Red Azalea' in front of a florist, or 'Not a penny more, not a penny less' in the waiting area of a bank. The possibilities are endless.

Step 9: And Finally: Tracking (and Keeping Track)

This is the easiest part, because you don't have to do anything: if one of your books gets reported as found, you'll get a notification in your regular email.
You can also look at your list of registered books on your virtual bookshelf, and see if any of them are listed as having more than one journaler. That bookshelf is your tool for keeping track of 'your' books and what happens to them over the years.

It's also the hardest part, because not all books will eventually write home, and those that do, may take months or even years to do so; so there is a good deal of patience involved. If your books are very obviously labeled and left in good, high-traffic spots, then you've done all that you could, and the rest is a numbers game.
Since statistically, 15 - 20 % of released books get a journal entry from a finder, leaving just one or two may frustrate you; try starting with ten or so, and you'll have a better chance of getting a catch or two soon, boosting your confidence to no end. It's very rewarding to get a message from someone you don't know, telling you that you've made hirs day.

Here is a great example. It gets that much more poignant if you realise that the building where the book was found has since been destroyed by an earthquake and will most likely never be rebuilt.

That is what BookCrossing means to me: it's a way to share, declutter and recycle, it's a real life treasure hunting game, but it's also a way to reach out to a stranger and say 'Here... Have a book. Hope you'll enjoy.'
That, to me, is the magic of BookCrossing.

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