How NOT to save your photos or donate books

Photos found in donated books (click to enlarge)

Have you ever hidden anything in a book? Maybe used a photo as a bookmark? I don’t recommend it as a way to save your photos! Here’s why:

I volunteer weekly for my local Friends of the Library. We price and sort donated books for our monthly used book sales (at which I also run a cash register), and we have a lovely used book shop in the Main library downtown which is open six days a week. We raise around $200K every year for library programs such as the Summer Reading Program for children.

Don't forget to check your books before donating them! Click To Tweet

Somebody’s dog won a prize!

My specific job is to research old – er, I mean, vintage – children’s books to see if they might be collectible. (Spoiler alert: Not all first editions are valuable!) If so, we sell them online for “real money”. If not, I stick a bargain price tag on them. I get to work with children’s books because I enjoy them so much. I collect Newbery Medal award-winning books and get first dibs on the ones that cross my desk. Other volunteers get to work with whatever category interests them – art books, mysteries, music CDs, etc.

One day Melissa, our volunteer coordinator, and I were going through the box of things we find in books. We have around 50 volunteers altogether, and when one of us finds something interesting we put it in the box. Keep in mind that these books are all donated to us anonymously. They could be from someone who is simply decluttering their bookshelves, or downsizing to move, to someone whose entire library was donated because they died and their family didn’t know what else to do with it. I don’t know how often people check their own books, or those of a loved one, for memorabilia before donating, but clearly not often enough to catch everything.

Pressed…um, leaves

Things like what?

Here is a sampling of items we’ve found in books:

  • Gift cards
  • Greeting cards (I like the old-fashioned Valentines)
  • Bookmarks of all varieties
  • Old photos (including naked ones)
  • Money (my aunt found $40 just last week)
  • Receipts (some more interesting than others)
  • Postcards
  • Birth certificates from the 1890’s
  • Articles about the book or author
  • Pressed leaves of various types
  • Feathers
  • Dog show ribbon
  • 1960 Korean wedding invitation
  • Little kid’s handwritten Christmas wish list

This is not the best way to save your photos, or to donate books!

“I’m sorry I broke up with you without telling you.”

It’s the photos that get to me. I wish there were a way of returning them to their families who may or may not even be missing them. Sometimes we give it a try.

Although it’s highly entertaining for us to find your keepsakes stuck in the pages of your donated books, I think you can see why it’s not the best way to preserve your personal memories.

What do you use as a bookmark?

What do you hide in books? Do you remember what and where it is later?

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found in a book?

Do you check your books before donating them?

Please share in the comments below!



This post was originally published in 2016, updated in 2019, and republished in March 2023 in honor of Melissa, who recently died. After 15 years on “the Tuesday crew”, I haven’t returned to the library since COVID shut it down in March 2020. Instead, I stayed home and finally wrote the two books I had been talking about writing. Many, but not all, of my co-volunteers did return after the library reopened, but business was never quite as usual. Melissa was the only paid member of Friends of the Library, and she was perfect for the job! Her book knowledge, sense of humor, and ability to lead such a diverse group of volunteers will be missed. She was a constant in our lives. RIP, Melissa!




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  1. Janet Barclay on July 30, 2016 at 5:16 am

    My answers:

    1. What do you use as a bookmark?

    A real bookmark! I have a bunch I’ve accumulated over the years, including a few promoting my sister’s books.

    2. What do you hide in books? Do you remember what and where later?

    I can’t remember ever doing this, but I occasionally find stuff in books I borrow from the library or other people, or that I buy secondhand. Nothing as interesting as your finds though!

    3. Do you check your books before donating them?

    No, because (see answer to #2).

    • Hazel Thornton on July 31, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      I’ve gone through various bookmark phases. Mostly, lately, I use a Post-It. I don’t hide things in books (well, except for one that was made to hide things in). And, funny, the books I donate most often are my clients’ and not only do I not check them, but it’s never really occurred to me before to suggest they check them! I’m like everyone else, I guess — glance at a book and if it doesn’t bulge, and nothing sticks out, assume it’s not hiding anything!

  2. Andi Willis on August 1, 2016 at 5:10 am

    I generally use whatever piece of paper I may have in my night stand as a bookmark although it’s rare because I mainly read on my iPad these days. It’s definitely worth a quick flip through a book to see what’s there. I worked in an elementary school library occasionally and often find tissues (unused) as bookmarks but also homework!

  3. Randi Lyman on August 1, 2016 at 7:10 am

    I had a Webster’s dictionary I received from my parents when going off to college. Over the years I kept a few things between the pages as momentos. One special item was some of the flowers from my wedding bouquet. when we moved from Chicago to Austin, somehow the dictionary was lost. I miss that dictionary. It held precious memories.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 2, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Oh, Randi, I’m sorry you lost your dictionary!

  4. Seana G Turner on August 1, 2016 at 8:39 am

    This is such a great post, and a wonderful reminder to me to make sure we check all books before donating. I need to remind my clients as well. I think we often stick items inside a book, and over time they can partially degrade and be so thin that we don’t realize they are there! What a nice service you provide to your library:)

  5. Sara Skillen on August 1, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I found one of my grandfather’s old utility bills in a book that was handed down to me. Fascinating to see it was just over $10.00! I do have clients fan through pages of most books just to double check for things, but I’m sure we’ve missed items here and there. As for a bookmark…my daughter recently got me one that is hand carved wood. I’m trying very hard to use it instead of envelopes or receipts.

  6. Hazel Thornton on August 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

    @Andi @Seana @Sara Thank you for your comments!

  7. Sabrina Quairoli on November 11, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    It’s amazing how much paper I found in my mom’s and dad’s books when we were clearing out their homes. I found a poem that my mother loved in one of her favorite books. I framed it with my parents’ wedding picture. It’s hanging on my family photos wall.

    • Hazel Thornton on November 11, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      Oh, how nice that you found the poem, recognized its significance, and were able to preserve it!

  8. Nancy Haworth on November 11, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Interesting topic! You are so right that inside a book is not a way to save photos! I personally use a bookmark, or a folded piece of blank paper inside my books. However, when helping clients to declutter and donate books, I’ve come across photos, greeting cards, postcards and money in between the pages. It is so important to check the books before donating them!

  9. Jonda S Beattie on March 27, 2023 at 6:17 am

    What a great reminder. I use slips of paper often as bookmarks. I do have real bookmarks that I occasionally use. I read a lot on Kindle and so don’t have a real need for many bookmarks.
    I have never hidden anything in a book but I know that others have.
    When donating books of clients, I always do a quick check and I have been asked to check when emptying out bookcases after a death in the family.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 27, 2023 at 9:51 am

      You mentioned Kindle. I, too, have less need for bookmarks, as audiobooks comprise a good deal of my reading these days.

  10. Diane N Quintana on March 27, 2023 at 7:21 am

    I usually (but not always) check the books I donate for clients. One time, though, my client and I were checking the books before we put them in a box to go into my car and we found her daughter’s birth certificate. Hmm. Good thing we checked! This post is a great reminder to always check!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 27, 2023 at 9:49 am

      Indeed, good thing you checked!

  11. Julie Bestry on March 27, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear of your friend and fellow book lover Melissa’s passing. May her memory be a blessing.

    I rarely use bookmarks; I usually just keep a book open to the page I’m reading or tuck the flyleaf over the page at which I stopped. However, I recently opened a new box of tissues and the long, wide, sturdy pull-off top of the box was the perfect size for a book mark, and I’ve been using it as one.

    I don’t think I ever hide anything in books unless someone has given it to me as a gift along with a card, and then the associated card may live somewhere in the book. But no photos. (Seriously, people have tucked naked photos in books?)

    “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found in a book?” In my own, nothing, but while organizing clients, I’ve found money, gift certificates, letters, homework assignments, and once, the passport the client had been looking for during the prior month!

    I nominally check my own books before donating them, just by flipping through them, but I definitely check ALL of my clients’ books

    • Hazel Thornton on April 3, 2023 at 6:05 pm

      I, too, have at least one card that lives in the book it relates to. So interesting what we find in our clients’ discards! (Books, purses, suitcases, and all manner of other containers.)

  12. Pam Holland ~ Mindful Decluttering on April 20, 2023 at 1:33 pm

    Great stories, Hazel!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 24, 2023 at 9:50 am

      Thanks, Pam!

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