OCEAN COUNTY – Most lost and founds are for mittens, sweaters and the occasional hat or scarf.
At the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library, the lost and found is home to all of the odds and ends that borrowers leave in books as makeshift bookmarks, rather than dog-earing the pages of the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts.
That includes what appears to be treasured family moments, in photographs left between pages.
In July, a table was set up in the lobby with unclaimed items, but staff requested that patrons who had lost photographs ask at the desk rather than put them on display. That’s when Senior Library Assistant Maureen Borkowski decided to find a safe, yet private way to store photos up at the circulation desk.
“Maureen decided to put them in a binder with plastic inserts so they would be protected and able to be viewed easily,” Lavoie-Dohn said.
First communion ceremonies. Birthday parties. Landmarks from family vacations. The book itself is a snapshot of daily life.
“One of our older photos is of a police officer in full regalia,” Lavoie-Dohn said. “You wonder what the story is behind it.”
The library staff members do their best to track down the owners of items they find within the pages when checking books back in. If the makeshift bookmark is an invoice or envelope with contact information, the job is much easier. And some patrons come back looking for their photos on their own. But photographs with just a name, date or landmark are much more difficult to track down.
“There was a photo of two women on a city street that just said 1929 on it,” Lavoie-Dohn said. “Those are the ones you feel badly about. Those old family photos that seem like they would be heirlooms for someone.”
In addition to photos and other items being forgotten in returned library books, memorabilia are also sometimes left in books that are donated to the library.
“Not too long ago staff noticed a ‘grandmother’s diary’ which came in with donated books,” Lavoie-Dohn said. “The diary, from the grandmother to a grandchild, contained family photos and with some detective work, staff was able to reunite the item with the family.”
The moral of the story? Keeping a borrowed book’s pages pristine is much appreciated, but it may be best to invest in a few bookmarks rather than reaching for the family photo album.
“We are happy that people aren’t folding down the pages,” Lavoie-Dohn joked. “But we wish they weren’t using something as special as a photo.