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Readers celebrate World Bookmark Day at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library in La Jolla

Some of UC San Diego's bookmark collection at Geisel Library features those made by local artists.
(Photo by Elisabeth Frausto)

Often overlooked or discarded, the bookmark — or “quitter strip” — has recently begun enjoying recognition as a book-lover’s faithful companion with its own holiday: World Bookmark Day.

UC San Diego’s Geisel Library in La Jolla celebrated the occasion, marked for the fourth year on Feb. 25, 2020 by hosting a make-your-own bookmark event along with a weeks-long exhibit of unique bookmarks.

Scott Paulson, Geisel Library’s exhibits and events coordinator, organized the event and is a self-proclaimed bookmark-lover and collector. He showed the Light pieces from the university’s vast collection, opening case after case of bookmarks made with varying materials and purposes. Most are fashioned from paper, and some are plastic.

One remarkable “bookmarker, as they used to be called,” Paulson pointed out, is a copper-and-silver engraved piece made for the library by artisan Jon Peters. Next to Peters’ shiny bookmark lay several colorfully illustrated bookmarks, made by bubble artist Susie Reneau and picked up at her studio by Paulson for display in the collection.

Bookmarks are a 2,000-year old tradition, explained Paulson of their importance, though their material, use and purpose often differ. “18th-century bookmarkers were often thin silk ribbon, others were embroidered,” he continued as he shared his fascination with “paper-knife bookmarks common to the late Victorian and Edwardian times, when books were published with uncut papers and you had to slit all the papers open with a knife thin enough to leave in the book as a bookmark.”

In both World Wars, paper rationing led to bookmarks doubling as advertisements, a standard that helps keep the bookmark relevant today.

When asked if bookmark collecting has declined with the advancement of e-readers and digital book collections, Paulson pointed to UCSD-made bookmarks in the display, which advertise programs like One Book One San Diego and sustainability efforts, and others that spread messages of activism.

“Bookmarks make such great advertisements,” he said, mentioning their size and portability as further reasons for their endurance. “They’re easy to pick up. If you have a book, you have to have a bookmark!”

The Geisel display, which also includes Dr. Seuss-themed bookmarks and those folded origami-style and still others that are three-dimensional, inspired many at the event to create their own. Participants used specialty papers, animal-shaped hole punches, brightly-colored ribbons, stickers and other paraphernalia and went home with their own commemoration of these readers’ accessories.

The well-attended event, in its second year at UCSD, brings in all community members. Paulson, who comments enthusiastically on each creation, said: “I love this event because it’s not only a study break for students, but people who live across the street come in. It shows people in the community we are open to the public.”

He noted that the Geisel Library resources are available to those outside the university.

At one table, UCSD staff member Megan Varra worked on a bookmark as a gift for her mother, a librarian in Colorado who boasts her own bookmark collection. Both Varra and her mother share a March 3 birthday, and the event is “perfect timing” to celebrate both birthdays and World Bookmark Day, Varra said.

In another corner, another Geisel employee, Jennifer Franson, showed off her bookmaking skills, using a technique called pattern-darning, weaving a tapestry-like effect from stitches visible from both sides. For Franson, making bookmarks this way “is really therapeutic. It’s a soothing activity, but it results in an actual thing,” she said of her hobby.

As for those readers who dog-ear corners or flatten books open to mark their page, Paulson admonished “It’s rude!” He added that it’s best if the bookmark is acid-free for page preservation. And no more sticky notes: the adhesive can also cause damage.

“It’s important to have a real bookmark,” he insisted. “Our collection keeps growing and we look forward to next year’s World Bookmark Day!”

Participants in UC San Diego's Geisel Library celebration of World Bookmark Day, Feb. 25, 2020 create their own bookmarks.
(Photo by Elisabeth Frausto)