from the smells-like-knowledge dept.
A 'Historic Book Odour Wheel' which has been developed to document and archive the aroma associated with old books, is being presented in a study in the open access journal Heritage Science. Researchers at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage created the wheel as part of an experiment in which they asked visitors to St Paul's Cathedral's Dean and Chapter library in London to characterize its smell.
The visitors most frequently described the aroma of the library as 'woody' (selected by 100% of the visitors who were asked), followed by 'smoky' (86%), 'earthy' (71%) and 'vanilla' (41%). The intensity of the smells was assessed as between 'strong odor' and 'very strong odor'. Over 70% of the visitors described the smell as pleasant, 14% as 'mildly pleasant' and 14% as 'neutral'.
In a separate experiment, the researchers presented visitors to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with an unlabelled historic book smell - sampled from a 1928 book they obtained from a second-hand bookshop in London - and collected the terms used to describe the smell. The word 'chocolate' - or variations such as 'cocoa' or 'chocolatey' - was used most often, followed by 'coffee', 'old', 'wood' and 'burnt'. Participants also mentioned smells including 'fish', 'body odour', 'rotten socks' and 'mothballs'.
Cecilia Bembibre, heritage scientist at UCL and corresponding author of the study said: "Our odour wheel provides an example of how scientists and historians could begin to identify, analyze and document smells that have cultural significance, such as the aroma of old books in historic libraries. The role of smells in how we perceive heritage has not been systematically explored until now."
Will our grandchildren recognize the smell of diesel, or oil?