Friday, August 22, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Oakland librarian collects ephemera left behind

library1W

Sharon McKellar, who has an assortment of the found items, sits at the reference desk of the Oakland main library on Dec. 16. The library has collected an assortment of notes, pictures, homework assignments and strange bookmarks left in borrowed books over the years. Brant Ward/San Francisco Chronicle photo

By
From page A6 | January 05, 2014 |

By Will Kane
Nobody knows how long the story of yearning and regret, hope and romance had been hidden away inside a book at the Oakland library, but there it was — a melancholy slice of two lives — spelled out on yellowed paper.

“Remember, I love u sweetheart,” said the blunt pencil lettering on the back side of an old flier. “The past is the past, so let’s not Take it home with us. I just want to love u, and be happy.”

For decades librarians at Oakland’s main library have collected the scraps of paper ephemera left behind in returned books, shoved into nooks in the library shelves or secretly slipped to librarians.

The collection ranges from half-done to-do lists to childish notes about gossip and crushes passed in the hush of the library children’s room. There are letters of adult love and tragic scrawlings of lonely longing, perhaps used as bookmarks in pulpy romance novels.

The stories in the scraps are known only to the people who left them behind. Some notes are found on the floor or tables of the library at the end of the day. Others are found when librarians thin the collection of books or check in returned items.

Generally, the librarians have no idea who wrote the notes, when they stuck them into a book or even if they were intentionally left behind.

“It is just these looks into people’s personalities, people’s lives, what other people hold dear,” said Sharon McKellar, the keeper of the library’s collection. “That’s the piece of it that draws me in.”

Popular posts
McKellar, who has worked for the library since 2003, and her colleagues have been collecting the items for years, but McKellar only recently started posting them to the library’s blog, where they are among the most popular posts.

A to-do list on a yellow Post-it found in a book years ago contains a list of tasks: “schedule Jonathan,” followed by “prescription eye gels,” and “day: Linden. night: Betty? Sunday: Royland.”

But the list’s author apparently was too busy to “buy hay/pluot tree” or get “Body Time, vit A&E moisturizer,” according to the note.

Another list had one seemingly important item still uncompleted: “get unemployment.”

McKellar, an avid to-do-list keeper herself, said she finds these lists of what is completed or left undone a thrilling window into a stranger’s life.

“That’s why some of the ones that are the most boring-seeming are the most interesting to me,” McKellar said. “It is such an insight into that person’s personality.”

Glen Berger, a New York playwright who wrote “Under the Lintel,” a 2001 play about a librarian using similar scraps to investigate the story of a book returned 113 years overdue, said old handwritten notes are a kind of portal into the past, a thrilling glimpse at a moment in time.

“There’s something about the connection to another person long ago that you get when you find a book in the library, when you find this piece of paper left behind, probably an ad hoc bookmark,” Berger said.

“I am always struck that I am not the first person to have had hands on this book,” he said. “This other person has had a life and they have stuck something in this book.”

Nina Lindsay, the supervising children’s librarian, said she has been collecting bits of childhood left behind at the library for decades. She was touched by one note that captured the back-and-forth between two girls.

“Cheyenne is mean,” wrote one girl.

“No she’s not serene,” wrote another.

“She is mean to me. Do you hate me?”

“Not really.”

Another Post-it found in the children’s section in 2009 asks, in Spanish: “Are you my friend?” The boxes for “yes,” “no” or “maybe” are all blank.

“Kids aren’t always as honest with adults as they are with each other,” Lindsay said.

She pointed out a child’s drawing of a fairy godmother found tucked into the shelves. “Fairy god mothers really do exist,” a dreamy young visitor had written.

“I felt like that was a kids’ really genuine reaction to something they read in a book,” Lindsay said.

Perplexing postcard
The most compelling library scraps, she said, are both beautiful and perplexing, like the black-and-white postcard/bookmark of a couple embracing.

“Lynn,” the note from Frank on the back of the postcard begins, “this picture always makes me think of love and that always makes me think of you.”

But Frank seems both conflicted and moved by the warmth of the pictured couple’s embrace.

“They seem to have a couple habits we no longer share, but the most strong we certainly do — because I love you. Happy Valentines Day.”

The intrigue and mystery of the note is thrilling, McKellar said.

“You don’t know who used this as a bookmark, Frank or Lynn,” McKellar said. “Was their romance dead and this meant nothing, or did it mean a lot and they wanted to always have it with them?”

— Reach Will Kane at wkane@sfchronicle.com

Comments

comments

San Francisco Chronicle

.

News

DHS musicians back from summer in Italy

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
City to overhaul its sprinkler heads, other water-wasters

By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

No easy task: History buffs still trying to save building

By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Davis indecent-exposure suspect pleads no contest

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
Not-guilty plea entered in Woodland homicide case

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
Russian aid convoy reaches war-torn Luhansk

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Putah Creek Council appoints new executive director

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A3

Communitywide ice bucket challenge on Sunday

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

 
Parents’ Night Out features Vacation Bible School

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Afternoon tours of city wetlands resume Sept. 6

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Yolo County golf tournament enters fourth year

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

Can you give them a home?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Saylor will meet constituents at Peet’s

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Event will unveil mural celebrating food justice

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Prunes take center stage at last agri-tour of the summer

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

In need of food? Apply for CalFresh

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Wolk bill would require reporting of water system leaks

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Writing couple stops at Davis bookstore

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Explorit: Final Blast show returns for second year

By Lisa Justice | From Page: A5

Record drought saps California honey production

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
World travelers

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

 
Seniors set to stroll through Arboretum

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

.

Forum

Weightlifters causing a racket

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Police are our friends, right?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Wage plan has a big flaw

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Bridging the digital divide with computational thinking

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

No support for militarization

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
A better use for this vehicle

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

.

Sports

Watts likes what he’s seen in keen Aggie DB competition

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Watney and McIlroy struggle at start of The Barclays

By Wire and staff reports | From Page: B1

 
Light-hitting Cats fall

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Giants win nightcap in Chicago

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Sports briefs: Big West soccer coaches have high hopes for UCD men

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

.

Arts

Yolo Mambo to play free show

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
‘If I Stay’: Existential angst

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11

 
Davis Chinese Film Festival to kick off with 1994 favorite

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Rock Band campers perform at E Street Plaza

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Natsoulas to host mural conference

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

.

Business

Car Care: Teenagers not driving safe cars, study shows

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Car Care: Feeling the summer heat? Your car battery is too

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

Three-wheeled Elio gets closer to going on sale

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12 | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Friday, August 22, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6