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Lost and Found: A Second Life for Things Left in Books

by Laura Guzman, Co-Manager, The Bookmark Bookstore

What happens to the things you leave behind in a library book? If you happened to lose something between the pages of an Oakland Public Library book, there is a chance it found a second home in the Oakland Public Library’s Found in a Library Book collection. Now, for the first time, selections from that collection are on display in a special exhibit at the Main Branch.

The exhibit is making an unexpectedly big splash. In just its first week, it made headlines nationwide in NBC News, CBS News, Chicago Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Smithsonian Magazine, to name a few.

Why all the fuss?

“I think that people right now, maybe more than ever, are very happy to have something in the news that feels more on the light and heartwarming side,” said Sharon McKellar, the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services and curator of the exhibit. “I think there is something about this project that creates a sort of connection and sense of humanity that is nice now both in the news cycle and in the point that we are at with COVID…I think we are all craving a little bit of connection.”

The collection isn’t new. McKellar started it nearly 10 years ago as part of a blog for the library website. It got a more permanent home as a searchable online database when the Oakland Public Library launched its new website in November 2021. The database has become an incredible repository of nearly 400 items, with another 150 or so in queue to get posted and roughly another 200 items waiting under her desk to be scanned!

The exhibit itself encapsulates just a fraction of the whole collection, and mostly of items that can’t be found in the online catalog so that visitors have an opportunity to see something new. It comprises an eclectic collection loosely categorized by photos, letters and cards, travel and dining, artwork and receipts, and bookmarks and other unique miscellany.

“It's interesting to me to look at each thing and you can think of a hundred different stories for how it landed here and for who it came from and for what the connection is,” says McKellar. “You don't know if those boarding passes are just a boarding pass that they left in the book because it was the bookmark, or if it was the trip where they met their long-lost sister. Who knows?”

On a few rare occasions, the exhibit has reunited the owner with their object. Just this month, a local woman spotted an old family photo in an Instagram post about the exhibit. It turned out like she had lost pretty much all of her family photos over the course of several moves when she was young. Now, as an adult and pregnant with her first child, she was ecstatic to have been reunited with a memento of her past that she can share with her future child.

When asked if she has a favorite item in the collection, McKellar has a hard time selecting just one. If pressed, though, she particularly appreciates finding people’s to-do lists.

“I think they're hilarious, and actually kind of really deeply personal…in some ways more than even a love note,” she says. “What are you doing in the quiet moments of your day written down in order?”

You’ll likely find it difficult to find a favorite in the collection, too. View it now at the Main Branch during regular library hours now through December 2, 2022, or check out the expanded online collection at


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