The Ghost in the Library

Someone told me a true story the other day. It’s about a librarian and a ghost: perfect for Friday the Thirteenth.

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A few years ago, a newly minted librarian found work in a primary school. Between reading sessions and book fairs, she browsed the shelves, trying to get a sense of what the students were reading.

She’d open books at random, scan a few passages, and pop them back again. She smiled over feisty puppies and nodded at ambitious heroines, but nothing she found surprised her. Until.

________________________

Until the day she opened a book and a piece of faded pink construction paper fluttered to the tile like an errant leaf.

She bent down, rescued the scrap, and squinted at it. In a child’s tentative handwriting, the note read, “This book is great. You should check it out because the dragon is actually a good guy!”

She moved to toss the note away but then, on instinct, she placed it back among the pages and closed the cover.

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Over the following years, the librarian found dozens of books with notes scrawled in pencil, in marker, in crayon. They ranged from book reviews to words of encouragement: “Whoever you are, you look really cool today!” Every one was in the same handwriting.

These days, when curious parents ask what she likes best about her job, she tells them she’s been blessed with her own personal phantom. Instead of an opera, he haunts books. Instead of music, he’s obsessed with words.

She thinks about him over coffee sometimes, when the library is quiet and she can track lazy dust motes through the air. She wonders if he used to stick his nose deep in the bindings and inhale, like she still does in secret.

Her mystery ghost could have attended the school five years ago, or fifteen. He could even be a she, although she has a hunch he’s not. Whoever he was, she can perfectly imagine his small shadow creeping into the library during recess or after class, adding one more message like a precious flower to be pressed.

Does he even remember doing it? Might he have a child of his own now, and have revisited his old school during some parent conference? She’ll never know, but now, whenever she trades in a novel at a second-hand book store, she makes sure there’s a note tucked between the pages.

Have you ever found a message inside a book?

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47 responses to “The Ghost in the Library

  1. I don’t think I have ever found a message in a book, but it sounds like a worthy project to do it myself! I wonder, though, if the librarians wouldn’t remove it before shelving the book.

  2. Ghosts, libraries and librarians? WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE!

    What a great idea – to put a note in a book! I’ve seen written things in books and notes but not a note to anyone – just a personal notation (for research) that was left in.

  3. All the time! Scribbled messages on the inside of the covers, notes left on bookmarks and receipts tucked away within the pages… There is a dollar used book store that I frequent that is full of little treasures like that.

    • It makes the whole experience that much more. It reminds you that the book isn’t a dead story, but a living thing that’s affecting people’s lives. And this is why I don’t ever want a Kindle… you can’t pass those on with a little part of yourself tucked inside.

      • I have heard that anti-Kindle argument before, and it is a good one. It was part of the reason I didn’t want one originally either… but, after getting one as a gift, it has come in handy… especially for reading ebooks that aren’t available in print.

  4. This is a great story, and I wasn’t the only one in my family who enjoyed it. I was laying in bed with my son this morning, and among other things checked my WordPress reader on the phone. He said “mummy tell me about the ghost in the library”. He’s 6 and now fully reading, I guess! So the two of us read it together and talked about what it meant. So thank you, for providing a nice few minutes of mummy-kid time 🙂

    • Jules!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I thought you might have turned into a ghost! It’s so good to see you. Also, I lurve that you’re still ASMR-ing. I’ve gotten to where I download the audio tracks onto my phone and play them when I’m stuck in traffic. Bob Ross 4EVA.

    • That is one freaking cool librarian. I just love these moments when a person does something with an intention, but they’re never going to know whether anyone found it, or how they took it… just the intention is somehow enough.

  5. I LOVE this. I’m going to do it. I did a similar thing when my daughter spent an undergraduate semester in St. Petersburg. I wrote a million little notes and put them in big Russian coat pockets, her books, her suitcases, anywhere I could. loved hearing about when she found them.

    • That’s wonderful. Had you ever seen it before? Makes me think that my own signature isn’t so beautiful… people used to have such wonderful penmanship. (And now I sound like my grandmother!)

      • Hahaha penmanship, love it. But it’s so true. I’d received birthday cards from her so had seen her sign “granny” and knew of her gentle stroke of the pen but seeing her full name, Hanna Curran, made it so different!

  6. I found a card that someone had given another. It was a photo of a young girl writing. The book was a writer’s guide. Clearly a gift of love. I have the card on my bureau as inspiration.

    • Oh, that’s a story right out of Found. Have you heard of that book? I think it’s a website, too… people submit notes and photos they’ve found out and about, and it’s fascinating how romantic, hopeful, heartbreaking, and disturbing people are when they don’t know they’ll have an audience.

  7. That is a cool story, Jennie. Nice and creepy, the way I like it. I guess sending messages forward to some unknown reader by itself is just a cool concept, like a message in a bottle.

  8. I love people who have the presence of mind to do things like this – leave traces in places that surprise people. There’s a little bit of the movie Amelie in that… I’ve never found messages, though I used to have the quirky habit of leaving a note for the next tenants in a house I was vacating. Mainly because I tend to develop unusual attachments to the places I call home!

    • That is one of my top five movies. I still eat raspberries off my fingertips like she does. 🙂 I think I’d be thrilled to find a note from a former tenant, especially if they told me stories about good things that had happened there or what places nearby were good to visit.

    • I feel realllly immature for this, but all I can think of right now is the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Lily tells her husband that if she dies, she’s going to come back and haunt his penis.

      Your goal is better. :/

      • Haha. It’s not immature, but it’s a clutch reference you make. I would hate for that to happen.

        Could you imagine a guy yelling at … himself … if he/it was haunted? “Not now! Stop haunting me! I have to go to the bathroom!” It can be seen how annoying it could get.

  9. Pingback: On Death | The Infinite Abyss(es)·

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