Librarian starts collection with hundreds of artifacts left behind in books

·4 min read

Cracking open a good book can take you on an adventure — but sometimes, it's not what's on the pages, but what's been left in them, that's the most exciting. Sharon McKellar, a librarian at the Oakland Public Library has been collecting forgotten mementos left in library books. Now, she's finally found a use for all the old family photos, notes, coupons, recipes and concert tickets she's collected over the years.

McKellar started the "Found in a Library Book" project – an online database of all the things found in books at the Oakland, California, library. It started out as her personal collection, she said, but it grew when other library staff started submitting artifacts, too.

"I put out a call to other library staff, just to see if anybody had anything they'd be willing to share, and was just totally inundated with other people's little collections of things they had found," McKellar told CBS News. "So, as soon as I realized it wasn't just me who had these things and enjoyed these things, it was an easy decision to keep it going."

McKellar has added 370 artifacts to the library's online collection — but she said she has a couple hundred more to upload.

There are many love notes in the
There are many love notes in the

"There are definitely some favorites – anything that's created by a kid I think I love," she said.

There are several drawings that appear to have been left behind by kids. One is a drawing by a boy named CJ that appears to show his dad with devil horns. Another shows a robot dad.

"I really love the way kids express themselves both in drawing and writing," McKellar said.

Many of the artifacts are notes, some of which are from kids: "Dear librarian, those three kids over there are making too much noise, and I can't read and my friend can't do his homework."

Some from parents: "Sweet dreams my love bug. Have a good night and sleep well."

Some from partners: "Remember, I love you sweetheart. The past is in the past, so let's not take it home with us."

Some are book reviews left behind for the next reader: "I loved this book. It stole my heart and made me cry. When you find tear stains, you will know they are mine. Enjoy."

The origins of most artifacts remains a mystery – although some people have claimed to recognize some items on the database. / Credit: Oakland Public Library
The origins of most artifacts remains a mystery – although some people have claimed to recognize some items on the database. / Credit: Oakland Public Library

Other artifacts are less profound: an old playing card, a luggage tag, a Big Red gum wrapper, a coupon for pizza and a pre-paid phone card from Vietnam. Unsurprisingly, there are also some bookmarks — one reads, "I love my attitude problem."

McKellar said that while the origins of the forgotten artifacts remain a mystery, some people have recognized items on the online database. "One person recognized something they had written, although they themselves had not actually been to the Oakland Public Library, they lived in a city nearby. So, they're not sure how it landed here, but imagining it was a note they had written for somebody else," she said.

"Another person reached out because one of the love notes looked like her parents' handwriting and the kind of notes they used to leave each other," she said. "Her mother and she had looked at it and agreed it very well could have been a note passed between the mom and the dad who had lived here in Oakland in the late '80s."

McKellar has uploaded 370 forgotten items and still has a few hundred more to add to the database. / Credit: Oakland Public Library
McKellar has uploaded 370 forgotten items and still has a few hundred more to add to the database. / Credit: Oakland Public Library

The project is fairly new, but McKellar hopes it inspires people to dive into books at their local library, because you never know what you'll find: maybe an old baby photo, a ticket to a 2004 Oakland A's game, or a map of Japan, all of which were found in a library book, she said.

"You just have a sense of shared space in a way. So even if you don't know what book this thing came from, even if you're not the one who found it, you still have a sense that this person is in the same community as me or was in the same community as me, using the same resources," McKellar said. "I think part of why people are especially excited about that right now is we've obviously been through a disconnecting time with COVID and so it is a way to sort of feel a connection to people who you don't even know through these objects"

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Librarian creates database of artifacts collected from library books