Forgotten Treasures: The Strange Things We Leave in Library Books

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

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

Now, Sharon McKellar is opening her one-of-a-kind treasure trove to visitors to the Oakland Public Library, California, in a special exhibit entitled “Found in a Library Book.”

“I wanted to share something that was really interesting to me and that I thought would be interesting to others, too,” said McKellar, senior librarian for youth services at Oakland Public Library.

“It tells a story of our community and our city in a different and unexpected way and ties into the library.”

Bookmarks and love letters

The documents left between the pages of the book range from the enticing 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 one offers a snapshot of the life of the person who left it there, and McKellar says the collection makes them “optimistic about humanity.”

“There are some letters or cards or postcards 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.”

Regret and words of wisdom

McKellar began collecting the Apocrypha about 10 years ago and has been blogging about her hobby for several years, but the opportunity to curate an exhibit came when the library launched a new website. This allowed her to group the ephemera by subject or category—including notes, art, photos, cards and letters, artifacts, bookmarks, creative writing, lists, and children’s items.

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

Others defy easy categorization, like a 2008 printout of a pot roast recipe that includes the admonition “Behave” in the large blank space before the beginning of the ingredient list.

Some letters are thoughtful, including one that thanks its anonymous recipient for “everything you do” but acknowledges, “We tend to argue. I’m working to stop that.”

Others, including “Thinkers from an OG,” are full of regret and words of wisdom:

“27 years in this madhouse / My fate is already sealed / If you’re young, get out now / You can do better / Go back to school. Learn a skill. / The post office is no place to be anyone / It is high school with a paycheck.”

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

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

“There are some that really sound like someone’s inner thoughts, like (they) are trying to talk their way through a really tough time or trying to cheer themselves up,” she says.

“There’s obviously no way of knowing who wrote them, which is probably for the best.”


Part of the display collects the jury manipulated bookmarks that readers insert when they find themselves with no other way to mark their place. Including a backstage pass from Public Enemy, concert tickets, a sticker from the 2012 European Football Championship, telephone cards and the traveling reader’s favorite accessory: the plane boarding pass.

But the note McKellar is particularly fond of is a confession, believed to have been written by a smitten teenager, which reads:

“Okay, I just want to say that I find it AMAZING that no matter what he does, Newt looks either SUPER ADORABLE or INCREDIBLY HOT!!!”

Who said romance is dead?

We hope that the seemingly adorable and hot Newt will visit the exhibition and get a nice surprise.

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