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.