Monday, February 02, 2009


Besides the obvious things (words, paragraphs, chapters), the insides of library books are an interesting anthropological look at that book’s readers. Margaret Mead didn’t need to go to Samoa to get her anthropology material; she could have just started turning pages of books at the Douglas County Library to get an insight into the culture and reading habits of rural America.

The most commonly found artifacts inside a library book are food droppings. Apparently, people often read and eat at the same time. The food droppings harden into tiny little blobs on the page, creating a mixture of visual and “scratch and sniff” clues. Powdery orange Cheetos fingerprints are one of the most common sightings, followed closely by chocolate (usually in smears) and grease (scratch the page lightly and sniff to determine if it’s lo-fat mayo, olive oil, or McDonald’s French-fry grease).

Spills are usually coffee (again, scratch and sniff to see if it’s Folger’s dark roast, Caribou skinny latte, or fair-trade organic), but can be soda or wine. Sometimes it’s just a small drop on the corner of a page (harder to decipher), but occasionally the reader has done a full-page or even a multi-page spill. Those I assume are alcoholic beverages made by people who drink and read at the same time. They might also be spills from multi-taskers who attempt to drive a car, talk on their cell phone, drink a beverage, and read a book simultaneously.

I have checked out travel books and found tokens of other people’s adventures inside. Last summer, I found a ticket stub to a Vatican tour in a travel book on Italy. Another time, I found a ticket for a boat ride on the Langayene Fjord near Oslo, Norway. It’s always nice to be reminded that other people are having more fun than you are.

Our library prints out receipts (like at the grocery store) for checked out items. So often, when I’m reading a book, someone’s old receipt is tucked into the spine, probably used as a bookmark and forgotten in the pages. It’s kind of interesting to see what other books this particular reader was attracted to—a mystery? a bodice-ripper? a self-help? Maybe it’s like where some helpful marketer says, “If you like this book, you’ll really like . . .”

Sometimes there are penciled notes in the margins or underlines and stars by significant passages (Hmmm, Why would they underline ‘Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound, and 8 ounces of the seeds would kill a human being.'??)

Money, however, never makes it through the re-shelving process. Librarians have a special sense of smell that can sniff out paper currency inadvertently left within the pages of a library book. Most librarians have supernatural powers.

Personally, I think it would be kind of fun to purposely leave little notes inside of library books—kind of like fortune cookies or messages in bottles. Tiny little notes that would inspire or encourage the reader to be a better person or live a better life. For example:

Or better yet, mess with their minds a little:

Maybe now that I’m retired, I’ll have time to go to the library and just rifle through all the books on the shelves, looking for ticket stubs, notes, scratch and sniff food blobs, and other anthropological treasures that will give me insight into the exciting worlds of my fellow readers.

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