Marking Pages with Bits of Life

May 17, 2012
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By John Burton

AH Librarian compiles book of found items

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Librarian Marilyn Scherfen has been working on a book of her own.

No, it’s not a novel or a tell-all memoir.

Scherfen’s book, Lost in a Good Book, has a subtitle that tells it’s all: 15-Plus Years of Patrons Leaving Their Marks at the Library.

Scherfen, who has worked for 20 years as a part-time librarian, director and now branch manager, has been gathering items that readers have left in the books they return. Most are things used as book marks.

The book is now on display in the library through the end of May.

About 15 years ago, she decided to begin collecting the found items.

“I never went looking for them,” she said. “They kind of came to me.”

Scrap book of items found in returned library books at the new Atlantic Highlands library. Photo by john Burton

She has accumulated a fairly large collection and began categorizing the diverse things she found. There have been: love letters, some with the creases indicating they were probably folded and handed off between school-age boyfriend and girlfriend; shopping lists and about every other kind of list; all sorts of pamphlets; bank deposit slips and receipts; and a variety of photos.

Some really inexplicable choices for bookmarks include a fairly large paint brush, a Q-tip, a drink coaster, a little portable sewing kit, and an unopened Band-Aid.

“I just found it intriguing that somebody would use something other than a bookmark for a bookmark,” she said.

The largest collection is contained in the Scherfen’s book chapter called “The Spiritual Side.” There she has put the religious items she discovered, including funeral Mass cards and cards one gets when attending wakes or memorial services bearing an inspirational message or prayer along with a little bit of information about the person who died.

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“I just wondered if it was just something collected or was it a memory put aside because it was too painful?”

There also are little cards that offer bits of advice and guidance and Scherfen decided should be part of this collection. They include cards from 12-step recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous. They are little things, “just how to get through life,” she said.

Among the 16 chapters are such offerings as: “Health and Beauty;” “Kids and Cute­ness;” “Dates and Times;” “Scrap Pile;” “Life­long Learn­ing;” “Identity Theft, Anyone?”

“I just find it interesting that people are so casual with their personal information,” she observed.

Some items are sad and tug at the heartstrings – like one of Scherfen’s favorites where one sister tells another about the love and affection she feels for her – and others extend to the sweet and funny. “Some just tickle me,” like one by an apparent little boy writing, “My dad is the best dad ever and I love him a lot more than my sister and he is the champion of soccer that’s why I love him.”

Others, like some napkins from bygone airlines, are something of a time capsule, evoking images of times past.

Some of the personal notes, she said, have allowed her to conjure up back-stories about people she doesn’t know.

She believes the collection says “there are a lot of caring people out there.

“It’s almost as if you’re looking at yourself or your family,” she said.

Lost in a Good Book will be on display until the end of this month when Scherfen is scheduled to retire. So far she said she hasn’t decided if she will leave the book with the library or take it with her when she moves on.

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Scherfen began working at the library in 1993 as a part-time employee. “It filled my schedule,” she remembered. She became the library’s director in 1999, and is now branch manager of the library which is now part of the Monmouth County Library System.

The library and its patrons have a special place in her heart. “It makes for an interesting day,” talking with people as they search for books and information, and participate in quite engaging conversation.

“The quest for information is always stimulating,” she said.

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