Good News for Those with Their Nose in a Book

One of the things people always say they love about libraries is the smell of old books. There’s nothing quite so comforting as the slightly musty aroma of stacks upon stacks of so much accumulated knowledge. Of all the things our students and faculty tell us they miss most during this extended period of home isolation, that ineffable library smell is up there at the top.

Now, thanks to recent advances in digital publishing, we’re excited to pilot a new feature in selected library e-books that lets you recapture that odoriferous experience virtually.


Screenshot of Scratch n Sniff e-Book
Look for the green “Scratch-n-Sniff” button in selected library e-books.

The next time you check out an e-book through our library catalog, look for the green “Scratch-n-Sniff” button in the online interface. Clicking the button will activate a feature that artificially simulates the olfactory experience of reading text on vintage, yellowed paper. Just gently scratch your display as you read to be transported back to your favorite reading nook in the library.

The first time you use the “Scratch-n-Sniff” feature, you may need to lean in close to your monitor and breathe deeply to get the full effect. The application isn’t compatible with all browsers. But if your operating system is up-to-date, you should be able adjust the display settings in the control panel of your PC or mobile device to strengthen the smell.

Library users are also advised to scratch carefully, as sharp fingernails and aggressive scratching may damage your monitor and cause the “Scratch-n-Sniff” function not to work properly.

“Over the years, e-books have represented a larger and larger percentage of library collections, even as some researchers—particularly those in the humanities—continue to turn their nose up at them,” said Jeff Kosokoff, Assistant University Librarian for Collection Strategy. “We understand. Nothing quite compares to the age-old experience of immersing yourself in a physical book. But now that digital is the only option for a while, we’re doing everything we can to replicate the experience Duke’s world-class students and faculty are accustomed to.”

“We had to pay through the nose for this add-on feature,” Kosokoff added, “but it’s worth it to keep our Duke community feeling connected to their library.”

Fans of the classics will be particularly pleased to know that the earlier a book’s original publication date, the mustier it smells. For instance, clicking the “Scratch-n-Sniff” button while reading an electronic copy of David Copperfield (which happens to be our next selection for the Low Maintenance Book Club, by the way) is like holding a real first-edition Dickens up to your nose.

The “Scratch-n-Sniff” e-book feature is available for a limited time for selected e-books in our library catalog and works with most PCs, laptops, Apple and Android devices, and e-readers, including Amazon Kindle, Kobo Libra, and Barnes and Noble Nook. It does not work with Internet Explorer, however.

Library user sniffing ebook screen
Is this fragrant feature for real? Unfortunately it snot. Happy April Fools’ Day, Dukies. Smell ya later!

6 thoughts on “Good News for Those with Their Nose in a Book”

  1. I love this feature! You can really sense the difference between 19th century American, British, and French printing papers!! What a boon this will be!!! What great news to begin April!!!!

  2. Wow! I was skeptical at first, but the scratch-n-sniff function works great on my device! David Copperfield was so musty I had to walk away from it for a few minutes.

    I’m really looking forward to further applications, like the Proust that smells like madeleines or the Grapes of Wrath that smells like grapes. And wrath.

  3. i think my disinfecting wipes ruined the availability of this feature on my device.

    I’ll make sure to get my friends to try it before tomorrow.

  4. Forwarded to a friend, who, referencing COVID-19 symptomatology, replied:

    “Pretty good. The gullible among us may worry that they have anosmia, however.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *