Books are curious things. When we find one we like, we spend a lot of time with it. Sometimes books travel with us in purses, backpacks or suitcases. They often rest in places of importance—on nightstands, coffee tables or under our pillows—just so they are always within reach. Some are read once. Some are read a half-dozen times, and some are like old friends who are there for us whenever we need them for the rest of our lives.
But just like our much-loved books leave their mark on us, sometimes we leave a bit of ourselves with them. At the Book Cellar, the used book store in the lower level of Mt. Lebanon Public Library, people donate their used books to help stock the shelves. The library then sells them at a couple bucks a pop, which, over the course of the year, amounts to more than $60,000 additional income for the library. Lately, book cellar volunteers have noticed an increase in book donations, some of which contain small mementos from the previous owners within their pages.
“I think people just forget that they left something a book,” says Susan Fretterd, a retired Mt. Lebanon computer science and math teacher who has been a Book Cellar volunteer for eight years. “Sometimes we have people who realize something is missing and they think ‘oh, it must have been in that book I donated to the library!’ Then we get a call … We also try to find the owners by publishing the items in our newsletter. So sometimes they are claimed.”
What sorts of items, you ask? Right now, the library is hanging on to a business card, a birth announcement, a postcard featuring the 1993-1994 Pittsburgh Penguins team and a number of very old photos.
“Oh we’ve had lots of strange stuff through the years. People leave pieces of mail, articles that they cut out of magazines—we just hope they didn’t cut them out of one of our magazines upstairs,” says Fretterd. “I worry when we get doctor’s appointment cards. They were probably reading in the doctor’s office, put the card in the book and forgot about it. I always hope they didn’t forget their appointment.”
Another item that the volunteers often find is cash. “No one ever comes back to ask for it. Probably if someone is using a $5 bill for a bookmark, they are too embarrassed to call us and claim it,” says Fretterd.
Whenever they find such personal effects, the volunteers tape it up on a shelf in the book storage room, and they generally dispose of the items after about six months if they don’t hear from the owners. In the case of cash, they consider it a donation to the Book Cellar.
“The Book Cellar is important because it supports the library,” says Fretterd. “We are always looking for volunteers. We can accommodate any schedule … but [book donations] help us to make money that goes back into the library. Last year, a portion went toward remodeling the Book Cellar check-out area, but the rest put thousands of books into circulation upstairs.”