From Notes to Letters, This Librarian in California Collects All Things People Leave in Books


A librarian is presenting glimpses of the stories hidden in books– not the stories told by the words in them but stories emerging through the items readers leave between their pages. She has created a veritable online collection by digitizing these artifacts. The initiative invites us to imagine the lives of these anonymous individuals. A book can tell many stories. In Oakland, California, librarian Sharon McKellar is collecting and sorting all the notes, lists, doodles, photos, letters and other forgotten items tucked away in the pages of books returned to the public library. She then digitizes all of these artifacts and posts them online on the OPL website (Oakland Public Library).

“I had always collected little things I’d found in library books and I knew other people did that too. So that was how it started. It was pretty simple, I was inspired by a magazine called Found Magazine,” Sharon McKellar told National Public Radio (NPR) on August 2, 2022.

Since the 2000s, this magazine has been compiling found items like love letters, birthday cards, homework assignments and poetry written on napkins, and then publishing them in the form of a magazine.

Oakland’s librarians seem to welcome their colleague’s project with enthusiasm and participate by sending the objects they unearth to Sharon McKellar. The collection has grown to over 350 notes, post-its, drawings, lists and photographs.

For Sharon McKellar, these curiosities feed our imaginations. As she explains to NPR, these items allow you to be “a little bit nosy. In a very anonymous way, it’s like reading people’s secret diaries a little bit but without knowing who they are.”

This new venture could now give rise to a writing workshop to imagine the stories that these objects might hold.

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