When I wrote about my Engineer’s Field Notebook, I mentioned that I would love to have a pocket sized version. Well, here’s something that’s sort of close: a pocket size lab notebook from The Book Factory. I’ve written about this company before— they’re based in the US, which is a rarity for notebook makers these days. They make all sorts of hardcover and softcover notebooks for various purposes, many of which are more for business or educational uses, but they also offer many items of interest to the general public, and anyone can order from their online store. The Book Factory was kind enough to send me 3 sample notebooks: a pocket lab notebook, a blank notebook with numbered pages, and a lined notebook.
The closest comparison to these notebooks would be a softcover pocket Moleskine. As you’ll see below, the Book Factory versions are slightly smaller and thinner at 3 1/2 x 5 1/4″ and 96 pages. (One of the samples I received, shown below, was actually slightly wider at 3 5/8″.)
The Book Factory notebooks are very basic: no logo stamped anywhere, no elastic to hold them shut, no ribbon marker or pocket in the back. They aren’t made to the most exacting quality standards– the spines are slightly rounded, and the edges can have slight imperfections– they are just a faux-leather/oilcloth material adhered to a paper backing, like the softcover Moleskine, but the Moleskine seems to be trimmed a bit more sharply. I worried that the slightly loose threads at the edge could start to unravel further with more use.
When you open the notebook, the inside cover has spaces for writing your personal information. The lab notebook also has a couple of pages of instructions for properly documenting research findings or inventions, etc., and has index pages you can use to create a table of contents for the notebook.
These notebooks are very flexible– you can almost roll them into a tube without harming them. They’ll stay bent for a while afterwards, but if you bend them back in the opposite direction, they’ll flatten out again. They also open perfectly flat.
The binding is attached to the paper signatures by a sort of cloth tape, which is visible on the inside covers. I think most notebooks probably glue an inner page down to cover this. The signatures are sewn into a slightly rounded spine, not squared off like a Moleskine (again, there was some variation in the samples I received as to how round/square the spine was).
The paper inside is pretty basic. The lined version has a space at the top. The lab notebook has a block of gridded space, with a header and footer for additional information such as signatures of the researcher and a witness.
As for the texture, it doesn’t give the ecstatic writing experience of the smooth, fine paper used in a Moleskine or Rhodia or Clairefontaine notebook– it’s more comparable to the standard white paper you’d find in any spiral notebook at Staples, but perhaps a bit thicker. Some pens feathered a bit, but it performed fairly well in terms of show-through.
What I like about these notebooks is that they seem so scrappy and hardworking. They are nice and flexible for sticking in a back pocket, and they don’t seem too precious to be knocked around. The covers have a soft, pleasing feel to them, and the pages open as flat as can be. They are just unpretentious and functional, which is fine with me. The design of a notebook should fade into the background like one of those black-clad puppeteers–the notebook should leave the spotlight on what the user writes in it. It shouldn’t just be a self-conscious fashion statement (someday I’ll rant about Field Notes being way too “twee,” as the Brits might say). Sometimes the definition of good design is that you just don’t notice it.
However, my inner aesthete may wish the Book Factory notebooks were just a bit more polished in a few details, and most days, my inner aesthete will win. I can’t help caring about how a pen feels on paper as I write, and if I wasn’t obsessive about the exact size and shape and thickness and texture and symmetry and blemishes of my notebooks, well, none of us would be at this website, would we?
But any concerns about quality have to be weighed against the price. The pocket size notebooks are only $6.99, with volume discounts starting at 25 units. There may still be comparable notebooks available for somewhat less, but none that I know of are available in lab notebook formats, or made here in the U.S.A. The Book Factory has several options for imprinting the cover (“Research Notebook,” “Log Book,” etc. a they can also make custom notebooks for large orders.
If you want a nice, basic, flexible little notebook, these are a great option, expecially if you have a use for pre-numbered or lab format pages. If you want something more substantial, you can also check out the Book Factory‘s other hardcover notebooks, which come in a variety of specialized formats for different purposes, such as “balance calibration” and “animal maintenance.” And if you want to try one of the pocket notebooks for free, I’m giving one away! You can win the small lined journal with the brown cover by posting a link to www.notebookstories.com at your blog and emaling me at nifty [at] notebookstories [dot] com with the location of the link– that counts as two entries. If you don’t have a blog, you can just send me an email saying you want the notebook– that counts as one entry. The deadline for entry is Friday September 11 at 5pm Eastern time. Good luck everyone!