Borrowing a library book is a unique reading experience, with any particular copy having gone through several other hands. Sometimes, those patrons leave something of themselves behind. And one California librarian is cataloging it.
According to SFGATE, Oakland Public Library librarian Sharon McKellar is maintaining a digital repository of the things left in returned books. Dubbed Found in a Library Book, it’s a fascinating compendium of ephemera: notes, photos, drawings, makeshift bookmarks, ticket stubs, and more.
There are class photos, vintage vacation snaps—McKellar won’t post anything that looks current—and illustrations courtesy of younger visitors. One, “Robot Daddy,” is self-explanatory. Another, “Mr. Poopy-Loopy Stinky Butt,” could be the beginning of a book franchise.
Among the more unusual items: a prepaid phone card for Vietnam; a dental check-up checklist (with good marks); and a proof of purchase that implores the owner to “please retain your receipt," advice that obviously went ignored.
Much of the material lacks context, which is part of the appeal for McKellar. “Right now I’m staring at a Southwest Airlines luggage tag and to me, that’s a nothing thing and they used it as a bookmark on a plane,” she told SFGATE. “But you don’t know. Maybe that’s actually a significant object to somebody for whom that plane ride was a journey of great importance and you just don’t know that. It’s fascinating.”
McKellar has been collecting the material since 2013 and averages one new item per week. To promote engagement with the library, she’s considering holding a story contest where writers would submit a fictional tale behind the object.
Books have long been a source for surprises. In 2018, a lock of hair believed to belong to George Washington was found in an almanac. In 2019, a winning lotto ticket was rediscovered in a book by a family who had forgotten all about it. It was worth $750,000.