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Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR


Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR

An ornate pencil drawing of a dragon; a floral postcard congratulating a 40th birthday, never mailed; a silver hook.

All of these items share a connection: they were left behind in books returned to the Oakland Public Library.

Librarian Sharon McKellar collects the found artifacts and posts them on the library’s website in a collection called “Found in a Library Book”.

Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR
Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR

McKellar was fascinated by the things she found in the library and the anonymous glimpses into people’s lives they offered. She thought the public might also be interested, so almost 10 years ago she started adding items found on the library’s website.

“I had always collected little things that I found in library books and I knew other people did too,” McKellar said. “So that’s how it started. It was pretty simple, I was inspired by a magazine called Magazine found.

Oakland librarians send McKellar things they find, which she then digitizes and adds to the library’s growing online collection.

The archive now includes more than 350 articles of all kinds. There are faded photographs, homework excerpts, bus tickets, love notes and postcards among the collection.

Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR
Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR

Many items appear to be from children. In a note, a child praises “Borok Oboma” for his speeches and family devotion. In another, writer Ana asks someone in Spanish to tick “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” to say if the two are friends (neither of the bubbles are ticked.)

Some of McKellar’s favorites appear to have been left behind on purpose.

“There is a whole annotated Matilda by Roald Dahl, where a young person put post-its throughout the book with just things that came to mind while reading it, like “Wow!” I can’t believe the professor did this,” she said.

Many objects seem mysterious without context or origin, and for more than nine years no one has ever reached out to claim one, McKellar said.

That changed last month, when Jamee Longacre was browsing through part of the collection and a green post-it note caught his eye.

Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR
Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR
Librarian collects everything left in books – from love letters to photos: NPR

“I even jokingly leaned closer to my computer screen,” Longacre said, trying to examine it. She recognized the curled letters in her own handwriting.

Longacre is from Concord, California. She said she remembered writing the note, but could not remember the context or who it was given to. She said she hadn’t been to any of the libraries in Oakland.

“I just laughed to myself,” Longacre said, when she realized the note was hers. She contacted McKellar to claim it.

For McKellar, the fun of the project lies in imagining the possible history of an object and the person to whom it belonged.

“It allows us to be a bit nosy. Very anonymously, it’s like reading people’s diaries a bit but not knowing who they are,” or breaking someone’s trust, she said. declared.

She said the library might one day hold a writing contest and ask people to submit short stories to go along with the found items.

Under McKellar’s desk, she keeps a box of more found notes waiting to be added to the website. Between meetings, she often pulls out a note, photo or drawing and examines it.

“I wonder if it was a valuable item to anyone,” McKellar said. “Is the person missing this article? Is she sorry she lost it or was she negligent because she didn’t share those deep, deep feelings with the person who wrote [it]?” She wonders.

Then it will scan the item and add it to the collection.

NPR’s Vanessa Leroy contributed the digital version of this story.

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