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Joanne Sherman’s Column: It’s in the book

Our library has asked people to visit the downstairs book sale room in preparation for new construction. All those books were donated by generous Islanders who not only gave away books, but what was “inside” those books. And I’m not talking about beautiful pictures or words on pages here.

I’m talking about items unknowingly left “between” the pages.

Is that confusing? Stop and think. Still missing that jury-duty notice? Ever wonder what happened to your ferry card? How about that scribbled draft of your resignation letter or that restaurant gift certificate to The Cook that Aunt Tillie gave you 40 years ago?

I can tell you exactly where many missing items have ended up — at the library. Remember that book you tossed into a box for the library’s used-books sale? Yep. It’s there. Tucked safely between two pages.

How do I know this? Several years ago I was the volunteer who sorted through mountains of donated books. The library has rules about the condition of the books it will accept, but some people ignore those rules, even the cardinal rule, which is: Please, the book must at least be readable!

Fortunately, the vast majority of the books donated to the library’s book sale room were in great condition. But not all the books were so pristine. Once I was culling donations when a lovely woman dropped off an armful of novels. “They look like they got wet,” I said. Turned out they had, because she read them in the bathtub and sometimes she dropped them. More than once.

“But they’re still good,” she insisted and showed me how a person could separate most of the pages simply by prying them apart with a fingernail or a razor blade. I waited till she left before I tossed the waterlogged Joan Collins tomes into the discard pile along with other books that were moldy, smelly, and had possibly been run over by a tractor trailer before being stored in a box along with kerosene rags.

And, not to talk trash about anyone, but rather than properly disposing of boxes of books that have been down in grandpa’s dank, dirt-floor cellar for 60 years, some people (and you know who you are) just dumped them at the library. Always after hours and right under the sign that says not to do that.

Usually the first give-away that there’s nothing inside a box worth salvaging is the mold covering the outside of the box. But, ever hopeful, I’d hold my breath to take a peek and sure enough, marked-up college textbooks dating back to the depression or a World Book encyclopedia set from 1967, missing L, P and Q, and a dog-eared copy of Good Housekeeping’s “How to be the Wife Your Husband Deserves,” circa 1955.

It was bad enough having to touch icky books, but do you know what it’s like to reach into a box and pull out a hairpiece that turns out to be a flat dead rat? I screamed so loud that kids in the children’s room came running over. Then they were screaming, too. There was no “shushing” going on that afternoon, it was a full-on scream fest. To this day, I’m afraid of cardboard boxes. And also hairpieces.

That was the worst part of the job, but the best part was how I would treasure hunt through every donation for bookmarks. Notes and pictures, ribbons, stamps, pressed flowers and pieces of scrap paper readers used to hold their places in books they intended to come back to. Along with those and the more mundane theater ticket stubs, LILCO bills and grocery lists, were memorial cards, school pictures and gift cards from the book giver. My favorite was a piece of lined paper with three versions of “why my child was late,” written by a 4th-grade hand.

Every week I collected a half dozen bookmarks and handed them over to the people upstairs who are in charge of books and all things bookish. I understand that everything has been kept stashed in a drawer, so if you’re still wondering what happened to that anonymous love note, or the 40-year-old gift certificate for the restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore, it might just be there.

Or, it could be that suddenly you’re worried that perhaps you left something in a book that you didn’t mean to and you would be horrified if anyone knew about it. Relax, I tore it to shreds and tossed it into one of those dusty, moldy rat boxes.

So, just between us (and you know who you are), I never saw a thing.Addendum (Fancy-speak for “But wait! There’s more!”): Our librarian just told me that those orphaned bookmarks have been saved for a future exhibit! (And I bet you thought I make this stuff up.)