What to do with these found journals?
October 24, 2007 7:02 AM   Subscribe

A box of 25 - 30 used diaries, journals, and sketchbooks has shown up on the stoop of my apartment. What should I do with them?

No idea how they got there, but they've remained for nearly a week, unclaimed. With no names or personal contact information, there's no way I could track down the owner(s). I can't tell if they were all written by one person or many, but the content ranges from a young child in 1982 wishing for a snow day to hand-drawn architectural schematics/renderings.

At this point, I feel it's fair for me to claim the books. I'm sure there's something interesting I could do with them. Weave them together in a script? Post them to a blog? What ideas does the hive mind have for using these found journals?
posted by jk252b to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is the kind of stuff "This American Life" was made for. Contact Ira Glass.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:16 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

It seems pretty likely to me that someone was dropping these off for a former tenant, under the incorrect assumption that the journals' owner still lived there. Can you ask your landlord who lived in the apartment before you and if they have contact information? Even with just a name, you could make a fair stab at trying to find them in your city & give them a ring to ask if they are missing their personal notebooks.
posted by tigerbelly at 7:16 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

It seems like they might be very important to someone, but probably not the person who left them there. It might make someone's day if you put a sign up where people in your apartment will see it.

Things you could do:
Decoupage some furniture with them.
Fake historical exhibit.
Blog about them, as if these journals recorded your own life.
Start founddiaries.com, write book, profit.
posted by yohko at 7:18 AM on October 24, 2007

Sell them, people collect diaries.
posted by fire&wings at 7:19 AM on October 24, 2007

start a website like www.ifoundthesediaries.com to find the owner and post the url here. makes for exciting drama.... :)
posted by Izzmeister at 7:21 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

read them. post awesome bits online. i would read that.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2007

They are not yours!

Don't destroy them by making crafts out of them. Don't sell them. Take them inside and don't touch them. If my journals went missing (they haven't), I'd be absolutely crushed if someone messed with them in any way.

Put ads in your local paper, put one on Craigslist, anywhere you can think of. Treat this like a lost puppy and really try to find the owner, because they most likely miss them. The real owner will easily be able to identify them.
posted by desjardins at 8:16 AM on October 24, 2007 [10 favorites]

Also, did a boyfriend/girlfriend of one of the apartment residents move out recently? Maybe this is a "Here's your stuff, come and get it, asshole" move.
posted by desjardins at 8:17 AM on October 24, 2007

Nthing Craigslist. If you get no traction after 30 days, ifoundthesediaries.com is a winner!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on October 24, 2007

If they were intended for the previous tenant in our apartment, she's out of luck. I do know her name because we still get her mail, and I attempted to find her to ask her to set up mail forwarding. No luck finding her.

Also, there are only 5 other units in my building. The tenants are all long-term (besides us). Three units are occupied by long-term residents who live alone, or couples that are still together.

For what it's worth, I've left the box outside for now in case there is someone who's planning to pick it up. But as I said in my original post, that hasn't happened in the last week.
posted by jk252b at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2007

Could it be a case of right apartment, wrong building? If next door is more apartments, maybe someone left them in the wrong stairwell?
posted by Lebannen at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2007

This is what the Lost & Found department of your local police station is for. Turn them over and give the rightful owner a chance at regaining a couple decades of their memories.
posted by jamaro at 9:40 AM on October 24, 2007

got an uncle named oswald?
posted by jannw at 10:47 AM on October 24, 2007

"Nearly a week" is nowhere near the point at which you should consider it yourself entitled to claim what are probably someone's lifelong journals. As enticing as they might seem, these diaries do not belong to you, and your AskMe question really ought to be "How do I return these diaries to their rightful owner?" instead. Since that will be difficult, do as jamaro suggests, and drop them off at your local police station's Lost & Found department.

These are highly personal, irreplaceable personal items, and with no information about their provenance (ie. they were not given to you by the owner, nor did you buy them from a flea market) you should assume the owner wants them back. Please do not claim or mutilate them.

(I understand your reaction, though. I would find them fascinating too.)
posted by hot soup girl at 11:10 AM on October 24, 2007

I agree with desjardins and hot soup girl. These journals are not yours; not yours to read and certainly not yours to publish. Try to find the owners. If you cannot find the owners before you are very very old and about to die, burn them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:28 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd make a more concerted effort to find the previous tenant.
posted by 6550 at 12:50 PM on October 24, 2007

not yours to read

Reading them might reveal information that would enable the owner to be found.
posted by yohko at 1:02 PM on October 24, 2007

I'd second flipping through those journals while standing there. Since you seem to care about them - and I'd be curious too - you should page through to see if you can find a name. If everyone continues to ignore the journals the odds are high that eventually these will end up in the trash.

I'd put up a sign that says "Looking for Owner of these!" And eventually if you do take in the box, leave the sign up for a while. I'd agree that posting on Craig's list and perhaps putting up info on a website can get you to the owner of the journals. And for those who say you shouldn't read or distribute them - well, which is worse, having them pitched in the trash, or having jk252b read and post some of the info in order to find the author? That's been done in the past and most authors are just happy to be reunited with their work. But I'd also agree that they shouldn't be used for crafts or destroyed in any way.
posted by batgrlHG at 2:20 PM on October 24, 2007

the mystery of whose they are seems at least as interesting to me as the content of the books. If my diaries were lost, i'd be very upset about it, but the main reason i'd want them to be burned rather than read would be to save whoever found them from the crushing boredom of reading the story of my completely mundane life.

There's an innate voyeurism I think we all kind of feel about looking through someone else's diaries, but in the end, the only person who will truly find worth in these books is the person who wrote them. It's an intriguing mystery though, how a crate full of journals would end up on your stoop, so I encourage you to follow through on finding out how they got there and where they're from...

If you learn the entire story and the diaries still have no claimant, then they'll be more interesting to you anyway, and if you find the person to whom they really belong, you'll have done a really good thing for someone. But it's a bizarre situation - far more captivating than any of the entries are likely to be.
posted by mdn at 4:46 PM on October 24, 2007

Don't destroy them. Do use the media content to your own profit. Although, keep in mind that the original author actually holds copyright on all of it.
posted by Netzapper at 4:48 PM on October 24, 2007

scan them and put them on the internet or I'll kill you (with the powers of my mind)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:04 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Read them to find the identity of someone else who can identify the owner of the journals. Maybe there's a relative or friend's phone number or address in there somewhere.

Put up notices in the neighborhood: "I have found someone's (your?) diaries and journals,"

Don't destroy them.
posted by pracowity at 1:07 AM on October 25, 2007

update? :D
posted by Izzmeister at 3:30 AM on February 5, 2008

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