This librarian has made a catalog of all the notes that readers have left in books

It’s been almost 10 years since a librarian in Oakland, California, created an online catalog of the makeshift bookmarks that readers used and left behind – and she’s amassed quite a collection.

From anonymous love letters to children’s doodles, the collection offers a rare glimpse into people’s lives.

“The more people hear about this, the more excited people are,” said librarian Sharon McKellar How it happens Innkeeper Paul Hunter. “People seem to really enjoy digging through and finding favorites.”

Many of the items are handwritten messages on sticky notes, but there are also receipts, concert tickets, postcards, and trading cards. McKellar even came across a crochet hook once.

As McKellar began the project, she called her colleagues at the Oakland Public Library’s 18 locations. They sent her the items they found in returned books, and she scanned each one, categorizing them by type and audience. Then she has she shared on the library’s website.

A love letter left by a reader in a book in the Oakland Library. (Oakland Public Library)

According to the librarian, the catalog now includes more than 350 items – and quite a few of them are love letters.

“These are especially fun because I always wonder if it was left by the recipient or by the person who was planning to give it to someone,” she said.

Curious notes

Until recently, the story behind each item was a mystery. But that all changed last month when Jamee Longacre, from nearby Concord, California, spotted a green sticky note with her handwriting on it.

McKellar received an email from Longacre stating that she had never visited an Oakland library and likely wrote that note for someone else who must have left it in the book.

Her note described the BRAT diet, which consists of bananas, flaked rice, applesauce and tomatoes to help babies with constipation.

said Longacre NPR Newswho recently published a feature about McKeller’s collection that she remembered writing the note but not the context.

A child's drawing on loose paper.  A large figure with a large round head, horns, pointed teeth and a pitchfork is inscribed
Sharon Mckeller’s favorite item from the collection is a child’s drawing that reads “A Very Large Pencil Drawing of a Devil”. (Oakland Public Library)

McKellar’s favorite piece from the collection paints a slightly clearer picture. It’s a child’s drawing, which she captioned “A very large pencil drawing of a devil.” There’s a big smiley face with teeth, devil horns, a tail and a pitchfork that says “Dad”. Next to it is a tiny figure that says “CJ” and has a big frown on his face.

“Poor Dad did something to piss off CJ,” the librarian said, laughing. “I just love that this kid scrawled it on a piece of notebook paper and we have to find it.”

A pink sticky note with an image of a rose and the words
A pink sticky note found in a book in the Oakland Library. (Oakland Public Library)

Handwritten writing in the digital age

McKellar says what’s most fun about the project is that these notes show local readers are still handwriting.

“As digital as we are, there’s still something that a lot of us like about a real piece of paper,” she said.

“We still get receipts at the store. People still write down their to-do list. Even those of us who really spend a good chunk of our lives online.

“I hope it doesn’t go away… I don’t think we’re going to stop finding things — pieces of paper.”


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Ashley Fraser.

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