Thanks to a few links on Twitter I just got directed to an article in the New York Times 'Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins' (20/02/2011). The article doesn't discuss the issue of writing in the margins on digital books, except to quote G. Thomas Tanselle, a former vice president of the Kohn Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor of English at Columbia University “People will always find a way to annotate electronically... But there is the question of how it is going to be preserved. And that is a problem now facing collections libraries.” I don't own a Kindle or other digital book so don't know if it is possible to write in the margins so to speak - does anyone else know, has anyone tried to do it?
What it does discuss is the history of marginalia, or writing in the margins of books. It gives various examples including a book The Pen and the Book about making a profit in publishing. the book in itself is not particularly valuable for it's original content, instead it is the notes in the margins that qualify it to be held in an Archive. The notes were written by Mark Twain and they include very scathing comments about the author, Walter Besant. Twain noted in pencil that "nothing could be stupider" in regards to Besant's argument that advertising could be used to sell books.
The Lindsay Anderson Archive holds Anderson's personal book collection and how I wish now that I'd spent a few evenings going through all the books in it more thoroughly for annotations as the ones I did find were great! The one I most remember is one that has been used by me and by Karl Magee (the University Archivist at Stirling). The book in question is Hollywood England: the British Film Industry in the Sixties, Alexander Walker, 1974. In one section Walker talks about the failings of British cinema to produce Auteurs 'Where in the period under review does one look for the British equivalent of Bergman, or Forman, or Rohmer, or Antonioni, or Truffaut of even Godard? The answer is, nowhere.'. In his characteristic red pen Lindsay Anderson has boldly underlined this and written in the margins in large red letters 'Thanks!' I'm sure there must be many more examples of marginalia in the book collection that I just didn't get to - one of the pitfalls of fixed-term contract work I suppose!