December 2, 2023

Overdue Books

Overdue sign in red inc

If you’ve ever been to a library, you’ve become familiar with overdue books. If you don’t turn in a book you checked out on time, it’s overdue. In some libraries you’re even charged overdue fees (typically 2ยข a day). Of course, it’s pretty easy to turn in on time, and even if you are late, it’s usually not a big deal.

Some people, however, turn their books much later than most. While you might turn in an overdue book a couple days after when you should, some people have turned their books in a couple centuries after.

Take, for example, the man who borrowed “The Real Book about Snakes,” by Jane Sherman. He turned it in 41 years late, saying “sorry I’ve kept this book so long, but I’m a really slow reader!” on a letter sent to the library along with the book in question and the late fee. Understandably, the late fee was the significant amount of $299.30.

The Real Book of Snakes by Jane Sherman. Image from Biblio

At over twice of the previous book, “New Chronicles of Rebecca” by Kate Douglas Wiggans was turned in 110 years late. The book belongs to a library in Boise, Idaho, who were shocked to receive the book anonymously in near perfect condition. No one knows how the book was kept in such good condition, but it’s believed that it was simply kept in an attic or some other undisturbed space. Luckily, no late fee is being looked for.

New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Image from Google Books, on which you can read the story for free

Amazingly, 110 years is again only half of this next book, and by a rather famous person. George Washington, yes, the first president of the United States of America, borrowed two books from a library in New York. The books were “The Law of Nations” by international lawyer Emer de Vattel along with Volume 12 of the Commons Debate. Despite being such a hard working man, the books were never returned. Eventually George Washington dies, and coincidentally the record book recording the transaction are lost. 220 years later, a patron of the New York Society Library realized that both books are missing. The library contacts the Mount Vernon Estate, which handles the late president’s house, and they begin searching. They find the Law of Nations but must pay $12,000 to replace the Commons Debate. While twelve thousand dollars is a lot of money, it’s not close to the $300,000 that would have normally been the late fee.

The Law of Nations (or, Principals of the Law of Nature applied to the Conduct and Affairs or Nations and Sovereigns.) by (Emer) Monsieur de Vattel. Image from Google Books, from which you can once again read for free.

And lastly, as attested by Guinness World Records, is the longest time a book has been overdue. At an outstanding 288 years, a book on the Archbishop of Bromen was returned to its library. Professor Sir John Plumb gave the book that Colonel Robert Walpole borrowed in 1667-8. The tome is back home in the library of the then Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, Norfolk. Very luckily, no late fee was requested.

A section of Houghton Hall Library

So, ranging from 41 to 288 years, there’s no guarantee for libraries on when they get their books back. Make sure to always return your books, libraries are amazing resources and they depend on people’s honesty. And of course, you wouldn’t want to end up on an article about overdue books.