It's not always easy getting intimate with a book, especially in public. But an innovative exhibit at the Washington Project for the Arts makes it as simple as possible.

"Bookworks, D.C.," which opens Friday evening, marks the first public display of art done in book format by Washington craftsmen. The exhibit includes works that are books only in the broadest sense: booklets and pamphlets and manuals, sketchpads and photographic essays, xerographic compositions, collages, sculptures and constructions. Half are displayed on shelves and can be handled; the rest are in cases because they are fragile or were not designed to be touched.

About 150 pieces were considered before 65 were chosen for the show by H. Terry Braunstein, guest curator and a bookmaker herself. The works, she says, "represent most of the directions artist bookmakers are pursuing nationally," and the principal concentrations are conceptual proposals, tactile designs and narrative statements.

Patricia Dalzell got the concept for her book from an old photo that fascinated her; she decided to recreate the poses and postures of an earlier generation in current photographs of her family and friends. The result is "Time to Time," an appealing selection of photos artfully paired to juxtapose eras and attitudes. (Only one spread of photos is on display, but the book may be handled by request.)

Lucy Spencer's rusting rendering of "The First Book" is good to look at, but you can't touch this one, either. On the other hand, enjoying Janet Dunphy's galatic "Flux" requires reaching for the book through holes in a Plexiglass box.

Also on the touchable list, Rosemary Wright's "The Beech Tree Piece" is a strangely facinating photographic record of three hours she spent wrapped to a tree trunk; its pages revel curious images of snakes and darkness and solitary thought. And Paul M. Levy's clever collection of "Eight Original Prints" is easy to look at, fun to hold.

It's too bad that other fine works have to be encased, but books like Baraba Bruce's "The Rainy-Day Adventures of George and Emily Dragonnut" wouldn't last long if handled. (With 30-odd pieces that can be held, the show doesn't lose too much by keeping some pieces out of reach.) "Bookworks" continues through March 29 at the Washington Project for the Arts, 1227 G Street NW. Hours are 10 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday. (Phone: 347-8304.)

Coincidentally, an exhibit of books by Braunstein opens Tuesday at the Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M Street NW. A collection of notebooks using color xerography and other media, the exhibit continues through April 5, Monday through Saturday from 10 to 6. (Phone: 338-4544.)