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Forgotten treasures: the stranger things people leave in library books

Oakland Public Library unveils a collection of memorable items found in library books
Oakland Public Library unveils a collection of memorable items found in library books Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By David MouriquandAFP
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Oakland Public Library has unveiled a collection of memorable items found in library books over the last few decades, including love notes, family snapshots and wise advice to younger generations


It’s amazing what we leave in library books… Oakland Public Library has unveiled a collection of memorable items found in books over the last few decades.

For years, one US librarian collected the flotsam she found between the pages of borrowed titles.

Now, Sharon McKellar is opening her unique treasure trove for those visiting Oakland Public Library, California, in a special exhibition called "Found in a Library Book".

"I wanted to share something that was really interesting to me that I had a feeling would be interesting to other people," said McKellar, supervising librarian for teen services at Oakland Public Library.

“It tells a story of our community and our city in a different and sort of unexpected way and ties back to the library."

Bookmarks and love notes

The documents left in between book pages range from the tantalizing to the mundane: bookmarks of children's art, Christmas snapshots, family photos, weekend to-do lists, letters written but never sent and notes from lovers.

Each of them offers a snapshot of the life of the person who left it there, and McKellar says that the collection makes her "feel optimistic about humanity."

"There are some that are letters or cards or postcards that were sent between people - or maybe not actually sent - that feel really personal," she says. "There are some notes and letters that feel very unfinished. Or I really want to know what happened next."

US librarian Sharon McKellarAFP

Regrets and wise words

McKellar began collecting the apocrypha around 10 years ago and has blogged about her hobby for several years, but the chance to curate an exhibition came when the library launched a new website. This allowed her to group the ephemera by theme or category - including notes, art, photos, cards and letters, artifacts, bookmarks, creative writing, lists, and kids' items.

Some entries overlap and fit into two or more boxes, like an interview that a child carried out with their grandmother about how and why she immigrated from Vietnam decades earlier.

Others defy easy categorization, like a print of a 2008 recipe for pot roast which has the admonition "Behave" in the large blank space before the ingredient list begins.

Cards and notes found in between library book pagesAFP

Some letters are meditative, including one thanking its anonymous recipient for "all that you do," but acknowledging "We do have a tendency to argue. I'm working on stopping that."

Others, including "Ruminations from an O.G.", are filled with regret and wise words:

"27 years in this madhouse / My fate sealed long ago / If you are young, get out now / You can do better / Go back to school. Learn a skill. / The Post Office is no place to be somebody / It is high school with a paycheck.”

"You will not grow here / You will stagnate, losing your soul, mind and body / Listen to your heart / Hear what it says!"

The glimpses of lives lived and preserved in between the pages of a book are special to McKellar.

"There are some that really sound like somebody's inner thoughts, like (they're) trying to talk themselves through a really hard time or trying to give themselves a pep talk," she says.

"There's obviously no way of knowing who wrote them, which is probably for the best."



One part of the display collates the jury-rigged bookmarks readers insert when they find themselves without any other way to mark their place. Among them is a Public Enemy backstage pass, concert tickets, a sticker from the Euro 2012 football championships, phone cards, and that favorite standby of the traveling reader: the airplane-boarding pass.

A note about NewtAFP

But the note that McKellar particularly loves is a confessional one presumably penned by an infatuated teenager, which reads:

"OK so I just want to say that I find it AMAZING how no matter what Newt is doing, he either looks SUPER ADORABLE or INCREDIBLY HOT!!!"

Who said romance was dead? 

Here's hoping that the apparently adorable and hot Newt visits the exhibition and gets a nice surprise.

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