Like many librarians, I got my start as a library shelver. Often part-time and minimum wage, shelvers are the most entry-level staff in the whole place, but without them each and every library would fall apart. The best part about being a shelver is getting hands-on knowledge of the variety of books, newspapers, magazines, and other resources in the library.
Besides becoming well-acquainted with the enormous breadth and depth of the library's information and the thrilling methods of organization, there was another interesting perk about working in a place where I handled so many objects that had passed through many other hands. I've never had a term for the various bits of other people's lives that I encountered: bookmarks, photographs, notecards, letters, newspaper clippings, shopping receipts. I collected these artifacts for years and used them in art projects or as inspiration for writing exercises.
It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who enjoys this small degree of voyeurism. Fans of Found Magazine share these sentiments. In the strictly found-in-a-book category, Forbes has an excellent literary blog called Booked: Reading Unbound, and a regular feature is Forgotten Bookmarks. Whether it's a recipe for brownies left in Motherless Brooklyn, or a land deed from 1917, the assortment of hidden treasures unearthed is fascinating. The primary blogger is a used and rare book dealer, so his finds are more, shall we say, genteel than some library objects or Found's fare. That is to say, I don't think he's posted about finding a bacon bookmark in a rare edition.
While I love what I do, I sometimes miss the serendipity of the shelver's life. In addition to the right book falling into my hands at the right time, there's always the possibility that Mamie Eisenhower's Million Dollar Fudge recipe would also fall into my hands. Fortunately I can still partake of Forgotten Bookmarks, and puzzle over the pieces of strangers’ lives.
Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.