What happens to a twenty dollar when you pay for something? Who will possess it next? How far will it travel? Those were the questions that initially intrigued and inspired Endre Bohem to write the first script back in 1935. 55 years later, his son, Leslie Bohem, found the script after his father’s death and reworked the script and made the film Twenty Bucks that premiered in 1993. The delightfully entertaining film follows the life a twenty dollar bill from the ATM to its eventual destruction. We watch the bill as it passes from one person to another (a colorful range of characters, to be sure: a street person, struggling writer, stripper, and thief, among several others) each with their own fascinating story.
In a case of reality imitating art, Boston database consultant Hank Eskin, launched Where’s George (as in George Washington that appears on the one dollar bill) in late 1998. WheresGeorge.com tracks bills of several denominations ($1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 bills that were in circulation any time after 1963) through its unique serial number. The most tracked denominations are the $1 and $20 bills. The site then reports where the bill’s most current location and where its been and how far it has traveled, along with any notes posted by a user. Interestingly, researchers from the Max Planck Institute (Germany) and UC Santa Barbara determined that most dollar bills (57% of 500,00 $1 bills in circulation) traveled an average of 30 to 500 miles in the U.S. within a nine month period. As of 2014, the site has tacked more than one billion bills. Success, of course, begets imitation — there are now several bill tracking websites focusing on currencies throughout the globe (e.g., Canadian Money Tracker, EuroBill Tracker, Find Lizzy, and CashFollow to name a few.)
If you can track dollar bills, could you track a book? Why not? And that was the inspiration for Ron Hornbaker who launched BookCrossing.com on April 17, 2001. The goal of the website is music to every librarian’s and bibliophile’s ears — to make the whole world a library, based on the wonderful premise that if you truly love a book, you should set it free. The site connects people with books and creates a vibrant community for book lovers; thus, the website’s tagline is “the books you read and the people you meet.” The concept quickly became part of the modern English lexicon: “book crossing” is defined as the practice of leaving behind a book in a public place so that it is picked up by another person to be read and shared indefinitely. The related term, bookcrosser, is someone who engages in this practice. Book lovers flocked to the site to enthusiastically contribute to a global library — as of 2013, BookCrossing.com had almost 2 million members and had shared close to 10 million books throughout the world.
So how does book crossing work? It’s quite simple. A person selects a favorite book, logs onto BookCrossing.com to register the book, the site then generates a BookCrossing ID number (BCID), the individual writes the BCID in ink on the inside of the cover page (or you can print out a label). The next step is referred to as “releasing the book into the wild” — going to a public place and leaving the book and hoping someone doesn’t witness this and yell out “Excuse me, miss (or sir) you left your book on the bench!” After releasing the book, which is really the fun part, you must post a “release note” on the site to let other bookcrossers know that your book is out there. Then you can track to see the places that your cherished book will go. When a book is picked up (“caught” in BookCrossing terminology), the individual will read it and post a journal entry on BookCrossing.com using the BCID number. The journal entry will include the date and location of the book and any reflections the current reader had; the reader then releases the book into the wild once again.
So head to your nearest bookshelf and if you truly love a book, realize it is time to set it free. You will feel liberated and you can pat yourself on the back for contributing to the global library. Who knows how far your book will go, how many lives it will touch, how it will change someone’s life as it did yours…
For further reading: wheresgeorge.com