Overdue library books

I’m usually very good about returning library books on time. Partly it’s being a conscientious person, partly it’s being a thrifty person and not wanting to pay even the measly ten cent fine per book per day that our library charges. (Though I won’t make a special trip to the library just to return a single book – the gas to drive there would cost more than the fine I would pay if it’s late.)

I have dreams sometimes that I have library books that are weeks or even months overdue. In my dreams I get books from more than one library, often because I’m taking evening classes at college and I get books from the college library. But then the semester ends and I have forgotten to return my books. Or I have forgotten to attend classes for weeks and I still have the books out.

When I was a child, we lost a library book somewhere in the house. (You might have to have seen how cluttered our house was to understand how a book could be so lost that after weeks of looking we couldn’t find it.) Finally my mother must have paid for the book to be replaced. Years later, it surfaced. Since she had paid for the book, we could now keep it. Oddly enough, I can’t remember now what book it was.

Even if it were still counted as “overdue” now, however, it would be far from a record for the longest a library book has been overdue.

I’m not sure whether I caught this news item last year, about books returned to a high school library 51 years late – along with a check for $1000 to cover late fees. But I’m pretty sure I’ve read similar stories in the past. In those cases, the books are returned by the people who originally checked them out, along with payment. But some people die without having returned the books, and someone else has to do it later.

A book checked out of the University of Washington library was returned exactly 100 years to the day after its original due date. Last year, a book was returned to the Washington and Lee University Library, 145 years after it was taken (without being properly checked out) by a Union soldier.

Yesterday (and this story is what got me started on this post), a book was returned to the New York Society Library, 221 years after George Washington checked it out. Except that actually it wasn’t the same copy of the book that Washington had checked out, which presumably is long lost. Staff at Washington’s home in Mount Vernon replaced it with another copy of the same edition. (How do they know it wasn’t the same one, I wonder?)

Even that’s not the longest overdue book, however. According to this page, the record is 288 years. (You’ll need to scroll down nearly to the bottom – it’s #2 under the heading Literature.) Wikipedia gives more information about what I assume is the same book, which had been checked out by Robert Walpole.

In a few weeks, our local library will have a Fine Free Week, in which any overdue items can be returned without paying fines. I’m not sure how long the library has been in existence, but I don’t think anybody will be returning any books overdue long enough to match Washington or Walpole.


4 Responses to Overdue library books

  1. Margaret says:

    The book we found as kids was a children’s book about a leprechaun, The Hungry Leprechaun, or something like that. Shortly after we moved to our current apartment, my husband tried to be helpful by putting some things in the hall closet, including five library books which I had checked out. I paid the cost of replacing them (about $20 each). Several months later we found them, and the library refunded my money, minus fines (it was less than 10 cents a day then). I recently took a book back to the library a few days late and said I want to pay the fine, but it was during amnesty week. So how do we know if the copy of George Washington’s book was the same copy he borrowed? I wonder if libraries stamped their name in books in the 18th century?

  2. Pauline says:

    I thought it was The Hungry Leprechaun (which needs to go on my list of favorite children’s books), but aside from the fact that I can never remember the title correctly, I remember reading that book to a first grade class when I was a couple years older, and I wondered how I was able to do that if it was lost. Is that when I lost it? Or is that when we found it?

  3. mommy says:

    We had the same thing happen with a child’s book when our sons were young. We found it when we pulled the stove out for a kitchen repair. I don’t remember what book it was.

    Now, if you had a Kindle, you’d never have to worry about late fees. 🙂

  4. Pauline says:

    Somehow I don’t think there’s a “picture book” version of Kindle yet. Even my 10-year-old still likes to see the pictures when I read to him (not that he isn’t an excellent reader, but he’s discovered that having Mom read to him at bedtime is a good way to deal with anxiety that makes it hard for him to sleep).

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