Ask a Librarian: What’s the Strangest Thing You’ve Found in a Library Book?


In Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons, Ingrid writes letters to Gil about the truth of their marriage, then hides them in used books from their library. Carefully collected over the years, these books are filled with “left-behind photographs, postcards, and letters; bail slips, receipts, handwritten recipes, and drawings; valentines and tickets, sympathy cards, excuse notes to teachers—bits of paper with which he could piece together other people’s lives, other people who had read the same books he held and who had marked their place.”

Inspired by Swimming Lessons, we went to the experts in unexpected ephemera and well-loved books—librarians—and asked them to tell us the most interesting thing they’d found in a library book. Their answers delighted, disgusted, and exceeded our wildest expectations. It was hard to pick our favorites, but here they are.

A few takeaways: novels pair well with bologna, don’t even try to get a secret code past a librarian, and our books tell more stories than perhaps any of us realize.


What’s the most interesting, memorable, or just plain weird thing you’ve found in a library book?


A taco, perfectly preserved and pressed like a flower in the middle of a book. It was so slim you wouldn’t know it was there until you opened the book. —Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System

I am a first generation immigrant from Russia. My senior year of college, at least the last semester of it, I had to write a senior thesis. I had gotten permission to write a historical fiction, a creative piece but one that would demonstrate my impressive researching skills. So, I chose to write about Soviet era Russia, primarily the political and religious oppression that existed. I was very familiar with this topic, having arrived in the U.S. as refugees due to the fact that our family was persecuted for our religious beliefs. I scoured the internet for books on the topic; I had to dedicate an entire bookshelf to those books. One little book called “Konshaubi: A True Story of Persecuted Christians in the Soviet Union” by Georgi Vins. Georgi Vins was a big name in our community. He was expelled from Russia, along with a few other dissidents, in 1979 in exchange for 2 Soviet spies. As I flipped through this very humble book, I landed on a page of photos. On one of them, I noticed three familiar faces. My grandfather, grandmother, and uncle’s. My grandfather served four 3-year sentences (total of 12 years) in the Soviet prisons for his involvement in the Baptist church. My uncle served 3 years. My uncle had just died that February. It was so shocking to see his face and the faces of my grandparents. I showed my mom, and she cried when she saw her parents and brother. It was, and still is, the most memorable and interesting find in a book. —Violetta Nikitina, Union County Public Library

A letter in a sealed, stamped envelope that had never been sent. I decided to mail it. —Christina Thurairatnam, Holmes County District Public Library


Sonogram pictures of a developing baby. —Chantal Walvoord, Rockwall County Library

A piece of bologna! It was in a children’s picture book, so I think someone was snacking while reading. —Joy Scott, Steele Creek Library

Bologna. —Helen Silver, Spanish River Library

Bologna. —Kate Troutman, Calvert Library

A patron found a handwritten note which he took to be a threat on the life of then Vice-President Al Gore, reported it to the FBI and members of the Secret Service showed up at my office. —Teresa Newton, Lawrence County Public Library

Divorce papers. —Sarah Lilly, Robbins Library

A pseudo playing card of 5 1/2 hearts.—Hebah Amin-Headley, Mid-Continent Public Library

A pop tart, used as a bookmark. —Julie Gosner, Largo Public Library

French fries. —Nancy Martinez, Joliet Public Library

A laminated marijuana leaf used as a bookmark. —Masyn Phoenix, Tillamook Bay Community College Library

An uncooked piece of bacon. —Caroline Barnett, First Regional Library

A piece of raw bacon. —Laura Foltin, Bucks County Free Library

$30. It was in a book given as a gift to a teen. I suppose if the teen never acknowledged the money then the sender knew they never opened the book! —Susan Ray, Simsbury Public Library

$100. When I called the most recent patron, she wasn’t home, but her husband took the call. Respecting privacy, I simply said, “We have something at the front desk that she may have left in a book.” His response, “Has she been using cash as a bookmark again?” ­­—Amy Gillespie, Hill Top Prep Library

$1000 in a book donated to the library. —Shameka Key, Blackwater Regional Library

A paycheck. —Jackie Schumacher, Stayton Public Library

A paycheck. —Jamie LaGasse, Shelter Island Public Library

A used, lottery ticket inside A Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living. —Lisa Crisman, West End Branch Library

Childhood pictures of a grad school classmate a couple of years ahead of me. —Spencer Keralis, University of North Texas Library

A note that said, “It’s Hard Interrupting a Donkey. They Hit Everything. My Only Neighbor Excludes Yall. Never Open Water With Heat Around Torches? Same code as always…I’m counting on you! Write me back in the book Reusing Old Graves, by Douglas Davies.” I figured out that it stood for – I HID THE MONEY. NOW WHAT? Our library did not own the book mentioned, nor did anyone in our county system so the trail went cold. —Karen Nootbaar, Northland Public Library

Visitor Registration form for the county jail. —Martha Amerson, Forsyth County Public Library

Kraft Single used as a bookmark (still wrapped, probably still edible). —Julia Welzen, Hamilton East Public Library

Pickle slices. —Kathleen Green, Harris County Public Library

I found a play ticket in a book from a play in Toronto 20 years earlier. —Julie Najjar, St. Mark Library

A whole cooked shrimp. —Emily Calkins, King County Library System

Wine label used as a bookmark. I went out and bought the wine. Delicious! —CarolAnn Tack, Merrick Library

Used pregnancy test. —Marika Zemke, Commerce Township Community Library

A patron’s social security card. —LaVonne Tucker, Montgomery County Memorial Library System

A photo of someone I know. —Patty Franz, Pamunkey Regional Library

A small cleaver, for cheese maybe? —Lisa Fladung, Jefferson County Public Library

Handmade affirmation bookmark that said they WILL get better at reading. —Mollie Goodell, Sugar Land Branch Library

A version of this piece was posted on the Tin House blog in February 2017. We’re happy to be bringing it back for the 60th anniversary of National Library Week.