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Horror Stories From the Book Drop
Posted On July 1, 2024
A Recap of the Items Found by Librarians

As one of my friends, who has the unenviable job of cleaning airplane bathrooms between flights, likes to say, “People can be nasty.”

The shelves in your library or your oh-so-inviting book drop seem to draw things you wouldn’t want to discuss at a party. Through my work at Library 2.0, I decided to do a survey of its 56,000 members. The survey question was simple; the answers that came in, not so much.

The Question

“What are the worst, grossest, scariest, or oddest things ever found in the stacks or in the book drop for your library?”

You may have been an eyewitness to these things (meaning you saw them personally), or you may have been an “earwitness” to them (meaning you heard about them), or they have taken on mythical status in your library and are passed down to the new hires like so much iconic-symbolic-allegorical lore. Here is a list the respondents could choose from:

  1. Needles or drug paraphernalia (pot pipes, empty baggies with powdery residue).
  2. Items soiled with bodily fluids/solids (diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, tissues).
  3. Hate-filled or threatening notes (written in crayon, typed, carved into something).
  4. Graffiti-covered books (tagger “art” or gang signs).
  5. Bullets, knives, sharp objects, weapons.
  6. Mice, rats, spiders, insects, snakes (living or dead).
  7. Expensive stuff (jewelry, watches, cash money, big uncashed check, winning lotto ticket used as a bookmark, rare coins, car keys).

The Answers

The answers, if you can stomach some of them, came rushing in. Thank you, bold and brave librarians! We asked, and you shared. Our hands trembled as we compiled your List of Yuck. As you review what your colleagues have “curated” here, you can either take some comfort that your library has not had it as bad as others or enjoy our “congratulations,” because your library came out near the top of the List of Awful. Here we go:

1. We had a full bag of apple pie filling dumped in the book drop. What a mess! The book drop was sticky for months!

2. By far the weirdest and most disgusting thing I’ve found in a book was a piece of raw bacon! Oddly, I was taking a library class several years ago and this question came up. I thought I had the weirdest things, hands down. Turned out that 3 other people in the class had found raw bacon in books, too! Bacon!

3. When I worked in a public library some teenage troublemakers tossed a lit sparkler into the book drop. It singed some books but luckily didn’t start a fire. We also had a very overdue book returned coated in chocolate cake. Another time, in a combined elementary/middle school, a student came in with a [zip-close] baggie full of ice cubes. She had walked into a pole in the playground during recess and the ice was for her forehead. As her class was leaving I asked her, ‘Where’s your baggie?’ She had no idea. We found it (full of water) inside an upright I Spy book on the shelves.

4. Once a group of very sneaky students came into our school library with raw eggs, which they snuck in between the books on the shelves. When we pushed the books up straight you can imagine the mess! We never found out who did it either.

5. Books covered in blood returned to the checkout desk by a person who looked like they had recently been in a fight, an entire hotdog and big gulp in the book drop, (what a waste!) and of course, the dreaded bedbugs and cockroaches.

6. I discovered a dead frog used as a bookmark in a returned book once. It was very sad.

7. That beats the whole cupcake (including frosting) used as a bookmark.

8. Patron brought a (recently) dead skunk in the library. Wanted information on taxidermy.

9. We had a metal tool that looked to be from a veterinarian’s office … it said ‘tick remover’ on it.

10. We’ve had a dead bird (who was not alive when he entered), pop cans, and dirty socks in our book drop.

11. School librarian here. My first year collecting textbooks in a high school, checking each for their condition, in just one day, I saw drawings of flaccid penises, erect penises, dancing penises, ejaculating penises, happy penises, sad penises, etc., ad nauseam. And I had one student at the end of the day, trying to describe his book to me, saying, You know, it was the one with the penis drawn in it? I lost my mind: The one? The ONE????

12. Ah yes, the penises! I remember trying to erase them from books when I worked in schools.

13. Carefully drawn cartoons of phalluses riding bicycles.

14. Someone’s birth control patch was stuck to the back of a novel I was shelving. I washed my hands for a WHILE after that one.

15. This happened to a library where friends of mine worked and/or frequented: a woman was dumping mayo, ketchup, and other condiments into the Ada County library (Boise, ID) book drop. She was also a regular in an agriculture store I worked at during the time she was doing all of this. My coworkers knew I was working on my MLS and started calling me the Librarianator. Link to one of the many articles about her (even made it to CBS News):

16. Late one Halloween night in the mid-90s, I received a call from local police dispatch. I was asked to come to unlock the library as the local fire department were on scene responding to smoke in our book drop. (I was middle management, but lived blocks, not miles from the library.) I arrived at the library a few minutes later in my pajamas. Fire Department investigation determined a paper bag of feces was set on fire and dropped in the book return. Definitely tricks and no treats that year.

17. A few of the noteworthy items I’ve either witnessed in person or tertiary handled questions/fallout over the years:

  1. Raw turkey in the book drop, the whole thing, smooshed to fit. It seems to have been dropped off the evening/night before thanksgiving. By the time staff found it several days later, everything in the book drop (a lot of stuff) was ruined and the smell was horrific. 
  2. Mucus (boogers). Over the course of a year or so, someone had been leaving bloody boogers in multiple sections of novels returned on the rollers, always during rush hour when staff don’t have much time to spot check inside the books. It took a long time and concerted effort to catch the person, who I kept hearing referred to as ‘The Booger Bandit.’
  3. Cat urine. It was all over a book so it was billed. Pet-related incidents are common, but the interesting thing here was that the customer denied that it had been damaged upon return, insisting that a cat had somehow gotten into the book drop. It’s a double-door system with a long chute, and there had been no cat found by staff inside the closed book drop closet. The customer doubled down, said that it must have disappeared somehow, like magic. Magic cat? Yes, says the customer. Then they decided that a certain librarian was out to get them and had gotten into the book drop, pulled out their return, and urinated on it, with cat urine. I just took notes on everything the customer said and handed it off up the chain of command. I don’t have enough hands for the amount of facepalm needed on that one.

18. I have thankfully not found anything imminently harmful like drug paraphernalia, but when city Public Works moved a trash can next to our book drop (which was just across the parking lot from a busy bowling alley), the amount of beer bottles (some with beer inside) and food wrappers increased. It was easily fixed. The saddest thing I have ever found was a litter of kittens, young enough their eyes were still closed. Two of the four made it to the vet’s office. Sadly, none survived. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the owner of the cats thought it a good idea to put them there. (and no, no momma cat could have opened the drop by herself). Those poor kittens.

19. Pot, meth, pills, crack, various pipes, used needles, full and empty alcohol containers, mostly in the stacks, but occasionally found on the ground or in landscaping. I walked into a cloud of meth smoke in the restroom. Items soiled with bodily fluids/solids (diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, tissues): All the above, but dealt with by either janitorial and/or building maintenance. Mostly blockages caused by: clothing, needles or other items shoved down into toilets. A serial cough drop user who stored used drops in-between pages. Notes threatening staff and other patrons. Not books, but walls, signs, benches, lamp posts and fences tagged. Stick with axe and hunting knife duct-taped to form a home-made ‘halberd.’ Various sharpened sticks. A mouse caught in the sorter. I had to review the video to determine if it was accidental or intentional. It was accidental—no idea what possessed the mouse—making him decide to jump onto the sorting belt. New iPhone, large uncashed paycheck, cash, credit cards.

20. I’m in a suburban library system in California. The community is ranked one of the safest, best places to live overall. However, the location that generates most of the incidents is in a core neighborhood, and within walking distance of a shelter. Some of it could be attributed to that and the issues faced by the unsheltered. Most of the incidents are from the last five years, and coincidentally so has evidence that methamphetamine and fentanyl use has increased locally. I also think we receive an overflow of people from a larger metro area adjacent to us, as authorities put pressure on them to the point that they migrate to us. Oh, and I forgot to mention the arson. It started with us finding evidence of small fires around the facility. Then, one night, someone continually tossed burning books down from the elevated parking into our chiller/HVAC system until it caught the enclosure on fire. Luckily, it was far enough from the library building and it did not spread. It was caught on security camera and it burned for at least 30 minutes before someone called the Fire Department. There are also more serious incidents and some with pending legal cases that I’ve left out for obvious reasons. I will also mention that the two adjacent library systems have dealt with far worse, so we consider ourselves lucky in that respect. I feel guilty for sharing all these bad incidents, and the negative associations it creates with libraries. However, if there’s anything positive about this, I will say that it illustrates that we have some of the best staff, who handle incidents professionally, while maintaining excellent service and remaining compassionate and caring people, despite the challenges.

Dr. Steve Albrecht is nationally known for his library service, safety, and security training programs, articles, and podcasts. His books include The Safe Library (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023) and Library Security (ALA Editions, 2015). He can be reached at

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