This, That and the Other: Books contain more treasures than just words

By Alma Joyce Hahn

My comments about books the past few weeks have generated interesting emails from readers, some of them out of state. Generally, they took sides in the ebooks vs. traditional books discussion. Younger readers favored the computerized books while older ones still prefer the printed format. One reader said she didn’t want to give up paper books because she always embroidered book marks for Christmas and birthday gifts.
I enjoy making bookmarks too. As a matter of fact, I sort of collect them, and I have a number of interesting ones stuck back somewhere. Most people though do not actually use bookmarks; when they stop reading for a time, they just stick what is nearby in the book, close it and put it aside for later. My daughter, who is a librarian in Little Rock, tells me they find a lot of unusual items left inside books when they are returned.
Not having a suitable subject for today’s column, I decided to call the local library and see if they ever found anything unusual in books returned by Saline County’s readers. “Well, yes, we sometimes find some interesting stuff,” said Sarah Sewell, head of Adult Services. “People tend to pick up whatever is nearby to mark their place when they quit reading.”
It is common to find letters, envelopes, grocery lists, ticket stubs, cash register receipts and even credit cards. Photographs and post cards turn up too. Recipes, especially those torn from magazines and newspapers, also get left in library books .
Non-paper items make good book marks. I used to use a stray bobby pin for a book mark. (Anybody remember those?) They were thin, they didn’t damage the paper, and they stayed in place. Paper clips were often used too, but they fit a little tighter and often left an impression in the paper. String, ribbon and scraps of material also make good book marks.
But what are some of the really odd things people find in books? Sarah mentioned folded Kleenex and even toilet paper (clean she stressed.) Little Rock library has found keys in their books.
But what is especially surprising to me is that a lot of people use money for book marks. Dimes are often used because they are thin and small, and if you should lose it, you have not suffered a serious financial hardship. But it is paper money that is used most frequently.
Foreign currency is common; people tend to use these because they have no way of converting them to American currency. Normally these bills are for small amounts anyway, though occasionally a foreign bill of a large denomination finds its way through the circulation desks.
But librarians and sellers of used books always check their stock carefully. The internet has a story about a customer who purchased an old cookbook from a thrift store as she was traveling across the New England states When she got home and started to examine the book, she found forty $1000 bills inside. She took them to her bank to have them authenticated, but according to the story, did not inform the owner of the thrift shop.
People who buy books at estate sales of well known people often report finding autographed letters or cards in books that are worth money too.
What is the most valuable thing our library has found? According to Sewell, a lady left $2000 in a book she returned. The library checked their records to see who had checked out the book. They were able to return the money to a very relieved library patron.