If you've ever checked out a library book, you may have come across something that belonged to the previous owner—whether it be a scribble or a bookmark. For nearly 10 years, library director Sharon McKellar has been archiving all of the numerous diverse items left behind in books at the Oakland Public Library, creating a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people in her community. From child-drawn doodles to heartfelt postcards, these artifacts represent the ways people interacted with the library and its books.
This ongoing project is aptly called Found in a Library Book. McKellar was inspired to start blogging about the small collection of items she and other staff members found in 2013, when part of her job was overseeing the Oakland Public Library's website. From there, the idea took off, accumulating more and more interesting items along the way. “The project moved from being an occasional shared blog post to really just being a collection of scanned items on my computer and/or in my office until we moved to a new website that allowed the opportunity to showcase the found items as more of an archive or collection,” McKellar tells My Modern Met. “Some staff members have continually sent me their finds over the years, even when I wasn't doing anything official with them, but now that they are showcased on our website and social media and getting so much attention, the staff is sending me so much more. It's great!”
The project collects items from across Oakland's different library locations, most of which are not found by McKellar herself. “My roles in the library for the past 10 years have had me mostly in an office behind a computer screen, so this is a really fun way for me to remain connected to the branches, staff, and community,” she adds. Since the archive has expanded so much—with new items added regularly—McKellar's favorite finds change all the time. “This amazing one was found, relatively recently, in a VERY old scrapbook in our incredible Oakland History Center and it's brilliant and so cool. [It's] an advertisement for a horse for sale with a hand-drawn horse,” she says about the item “Faithful Old Tom.” Another recent stand-out piece is a hand-drawn bookmark, cataloged under the name “Robot Daddy.” The small pencil-rendered robot is paired with a speech bubble that reads, “Calculating. I love beer.”
Many of the things McKellar and other library staff find are amusing in some way, especially the notes and doodles made by children. However, they also find heartfelt postcards and notes, such as “this is then and this is now,” which states that the sender tried to get in touch with the recipient over 30 times. In addition, the small yellow notebook titled “because more freedom,” features “a young person's notes taken when interviewing their grandmother about her life pre and post-immigration to America.” Together, all of these belongings highlight the diversity of Oakland's community.
You can check out more from the Found in a Library Book archive via Oakland Public Library's website.