OAKLAND, Calif. - For many readers, opening the pages of a book takes them on a journey where the imagination knows no bounds. For one Oakland librarian, she’s brought the gift of what lies in between the pages of a book to an entirely different plane.
For almost ten years, Sharon McKellar has been collecting artifacts that readers have left behind in the leaves of borrowed books.
The Oakland Public Library's Sharon McKellar has cataloged an expansive collection of personal items found inside library books over the years. (Sharon McKellar)
They've ranged from intimate love letters to pictures drawn by small and unsteady hands. They've included photos, old ticket stubs, to-do lists, and even a dental report.
Behind each item, an untold story with unknown characters all tied to hands that once opened the book in which the item was found.
McKellar estimated that she’s collected roughly 600 mementos since about 2013.
"I have been a fan of this kind of thing for some time," the longtime librarian with the Oakland Public Library (OPL) told KTVU.
At first, it was something she did for personal enjoyment. She would hold on to an unclaimed item that would fall out of the pages of a library book.
Knowing that she wasn’t the only one at her workplace to came across personal belongings in returned books, she decided to reach out to her colleagues and invited them to share their discoveries. And then she wrote about the discoveries in a blog.
That blog eventually evolved into a page on OPL's website she created last year called "Found in a Library Book."
"I thought this would be very cool as more of a full archive and catalog that people can look through," McKellar said.
Inviting visitors to let their imaginations go to work, on the page it asked, "Have you ever wondered what happens to the things you leave behind?"
Those things left behind can be seen in scanned photos of hundreds of found items, uploaded to the site, so these treasures can be shared with the community. For privacy purposes, addresses and other personal identifying information have been blocked out.
Among the plethora of mementos she’s come across, she said two have a special place in her heart.
"One is the drawing called ‘Dad and CJ,’" the librarian shared.
In that pencil drawing, a child’s hand has created a large image of a man with devil horns and a devil pitchfork, identifying the villainous figure standing among flames as "Dad."
Next to him, the artist drew a much smaller figure, a definite frown on his face, labeled CJ.
This photo titled "Dad and CJ" is part of the Oakland Public Library's collection of personal items found in library books. (Oakland Public Library )
"I just always loved that one, because kids are cute and funny, and who knows what dad had done that made CJ mad that day," McKellar said.
She said her other favorite was a postcard to a man named "William," in which the writer explained that it would be her last in a series of unanswered correspondence to him.
"I must have sent at least 36 cards/postcards/letters," the writer said. "Hopefully you received them all. Hope all goes well for you and you are safe and sound." The writer then went on to say, "Quite a different level of support than you and I had, eh? But that was then and this is now."
McKellar said the words left her with so many questions. "Just thinking about this person who wrote to this person 30 something times and never got a response. I’m just intrigued about that," she shared.
This postcard titled "that was then this is now" is part of the Oakland Public Library's collection of items readers left behind in library books.
The catalog included many more heartfelt notes, like this one, written on a yellow Post-it: "Remember I love you, sweetheart. The past, is the past, so let’s not Take it home with us. I just want to Love U, and be happy." It’s signed with a smiley face.
McKellar aptly titled it, "Remember, I Love U."
This note is part of the Oakland Public Library's "Found in Library Books" project, a collection of personal items left behind in borrowed books.
In another borrowed book, someone left behind a story about heartbreak. "Translation: When you broke my heart… you freed me," the person wrote, closing the note with a "Thank you."
A note left in an Oakland Public Library book and shared in a collection called "Found in Library Books."
Occasionally the items have found their way back to their owner, and it’s a joyous and welcomed event when that happens.
In one instance, after the library had shared a person’s childhood photos, a woman saw the pictures and recognized the images, saying they were of her as a child. She reached out to the library to reclaim them.
"There isn't another copy," McKellar said, noting some were Polaroids. "They'd been lost since she’d been a kid."
What was even more meaningful was that the woman was pregnant and was excited to be able to eventually share her childhood photos with her own child.
"After she spotted them here on Instagram and on the website, we were able to reunite this amazing mom-to-be with some of her childhood photos that had been lost many years," Oakland Public Library: Found in a Library Book shared on social media.
This woman reclaimed long-lost childhood photos after she saw them shared by the Oakland Public Library's "Found in a Library Book" page. (Oakland Public Library )
The collection has become increasingly popular with people all over visiting the "Found in a Library Book" page as well as its Instagram, with many sharing their own special discoveries.
"The more it’s shared out, the more feedback we get and emails sharing stories of things they’ve found," McKellar said, adding, "Just today I got a letter I got from Cincinnati, Ohio from someone who sent a letter found in a used book store."
The librarian, who has been with the Oakland Public Library for almost 20 years and currently served as Supervising Librarian for Teen Services, said she hoped to expand the "Found in a Library Book" project.
She said she envisioned getting the community, especially young people, even more involved by eventually launching a creative writing program based on the found items and allowing people to submit their own stories behind these treasures.
For now, library goers can get a glimpse of some of these items in person. They're being displayed as part of an exhibit at the Oakland Main Library on 14th St. They’re expected to remain on display at least through December.
The Oakland Public Library's Main Library has on display a collection of personal items that have been found in library books over the years. (Oakland Public Library )
The collection has been a gift and a snapshot of the community which McKellar has long served, and like the books that she’s helped care for and curate, they’ve told stories and provided endless possibilities for the imagination.
"This beautiful thing that exists that people find," McKellar said, "It's such an interesting collection and a bit of community and humanity in Oakland."
"Found in Library Books" exhibit at the Oakland Main Library. (Oakland Public Library )