Oakland Library releases notes found in books online for grateful fans


If you’ve ever mistakenly left a note or to-do list – or worse, a love letter – in a library book and thought your personal item had been thrown away by the librarian, you’re wrong. maybe.

Especially if you live in Oakland, CA.

In her 20 years as a librarian, Sharon McKellar unearthed all manner of abandoned personal items — from doodles to recipes to old photographs — tucked between the pages of returned library books. She carefully deletes them and reads them, then scans them and uploads them to the library’s website after erasing any personally identifying information.

It’s become a hobby, and she has a following of people who are equally charmed by forgotten finds.

“Part of the magic is that they kind of show up,” McKellar said. “Sometimes they may have been in a book for a very long time before we noticed them there.”

McKellar, a librarian at the Oakland Public Library, marvels at every memory, no matter how mundane. She tells them all.

“Things that seem the most mundane can be the most interesting,” she said. “I love the little glimpse into someone’s life in that moment.”

McKellar has been doing it for many years, but in 2013 she decided to take her hobby public. She began uploading each digitized item to the library’s website – which was revamped about a year ago – on a page she created and called “Found in a library book.”

The top of the page says, “Have you ever wondered what happens to the things you leave behind? Well, if you leave them in a book in the OPL library or in the library, you might find them featured right here on our website. Check out some of our found treasures below.

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The impromptu project took off. Staff members at the library — which has 18 locations around the city — began sending McKellar submissions of interesting things they discovered in books and around the library.

“I think it’s in the nature of people who are inclined to work in libraries to tend to love ephemera and collect things,” McKellar, 46, said, adding that she’s always looking to give back. important objects to their owner and removes any private information – such as names and addresses – from its digital messages.

It divides articles into different categories: notes, artwork, photos, maps and letters, artifacts, facts, bookmarks, creative writing, lists, writing in a book, and children’s articles. She then gives each piece an applicable title.

When considering what to feature on the site, “I don’t discriminate,” McKellar said. “The idea is to post everything, because what is a nugget for me may not be for someone else.”

For McKellar, the treasures that tickle her most are children’s drawings – especially those that paint a clear picture of what might be going on in their lives, despite the simplicity of the artwork.

She also enjoys looking at people’s lists: to-do lists, shopping lists, brainstorming lists, to-do lists. All lists.

“I’m a person who makes lists for everything and tends to leave them behind,” McKellar said, explaining that there’s an element of relatability that intrigues her about a stranger’s personal notes. “It feels connected in a way.”

A worker stopped by to help find a missing girl. He found her waist-deep in a stream.

“Learn to cook” is the title of a listing that appeared at random and is written in distinctly curly cursive. Several dishes are listed: Almond butter cake, banana muffins, deviled eggs and baking powder cookies.

Another list, scrawled haphazardly on a yellow post-it note, is mostly crossed out. However, some tasks are still pending, including: “buy hay” and “hydrating vit AE”.

To anyone other than the scribe, these notes may seem meaningless, McKellar said, but to her they are an opportunity for creativity.

“I love it as a storytelling device,” said McKellar, who hopes to host an in-person exhibit at the library soon to share particularly special pieces. “You can look at an object, whether it’s a photo or a piece of paper, and you can think of all the possible people who might have brought it into our space, and why and how it is. arrived here, and what are their stories. ”

“You really can let your imagination imagine all kinds of scenarios, and you’re unlikely to ever guess the real one,” she continued. “But it’s a bit of fun.”

Other library staff have also been involved in the project for a long time. They scour the returned books for interesting items and share their findings with McKellar, who is the curator of the vast collection.

Remy Timbrook, librarian in the children’s department, finds “lots of little drawings” in the returned books. They always brighten her day, she says.

“I love little illustrations of things,” said Timbrook, 38, who has worked at the library since 2015. “Sometimes there are notes, or their recommendations for a book, or a response to what’s going on in the book.”

Her favorite find, she said, was a leaf — which was buried in a children’s non-fiction book about leaves. Naturally, she found it last fall.

“I turned the page and thought it was an illustration,” Timbrook said. “Then it fell off the book.”

Christy Thomas, who has worked at the library for 18 years, is also thrilled with the project.

“I saw so many beautiful things,” said Thomas, 48. “It’s like finding a treasure, and it’s so nice that we have this process to do something with them and share them.”

Especially amid the world’s current woes, “it’s wonderful to be able to get a boost from the little joys we can find,” she said.

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The collection of miscellaneous memorabilia, Thomas added, is “a reminder that these are shared objects that many of us appreciate, and that’s one of the things I really love about it.”

Internet users are also fans of forgotten remains. The website page has been popular for years, McKellar said, but the initiative has recently spread to social media.

“The Oakland Public Library scans the scraps of paper people leave in library books and I’m obsessed with them,” tweeted Annie Rauwerda – a recent graduate from the University of Michigan, who works as a comedian, writer and content creator.

She came across the project in a newsletter and was immediately hooked.

“It’s so endearing to see people’s personal thoughts that they haven’t written for an audience,” said Rauwerda, 22, who runs the popular Twitter account, @depthsofwiki. “It’s very relevant.”

She spent an hour scrolling through the site and picked out a few favorites – which she shared in a thread. Some are silly, and some are sweet.

In a picture, a handwritten Post-it reads: “The squirrel can type!!!” on a book page with illustrations of a squirrel using a typewriter.

another watch a literary criticism somehow, written on lined paper with calligraphy that looks like a child’s.

“Love this book,” read the review. “It stole my heart and made me cry.”

“When you find tear stains,” he continues, “you will now know they are mine. Enjoy!”

McKellar and his fellow library staffers also found nostalgic and insightful love letters.

“When you broke my heart…you set me free. Thanks,” a note says.

“Remember, I love you my darling” another bed. “The past is the past, so let’s not bring it home. I just want to love you and be happy.

“I still wonder who left it behind,” McKellar said. “Did the writer ever give it to this person? Did they leave it behind by accident or did they really care? »

She revels in the mystery – which she knows will never truly be solved. For her, that’s part of the call.

“I think it’s fascinating to see these little glimpses into other people’s lives,” McKellar said. “They feel very human.”

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Colin L. Johnson