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Long overdue books, some checked out in 1930s, returned to the Somerville Public Library

Alison Mitchell (right), the interim branch manager of the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library, stands by some of the books that were brought back to the library earlier this month. The books had been stored away in an attic for decades.
Alison Mitchell (right), the interim branch manager of the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library, stands by some of the books that were brought back to the library earlier this month. The books had been stored away in an attic for decades.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

What are likely the most overdue books ever to be returned to the Somerville Public Library are now back where they belong.

The books were just discovered recently by Bob Alvarez, 63, who found them in the basement of his home in Methuen. Some of the books were checked out of the library in the 1920s and 1930s.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” he said. “There were at least 10 books that had been taken out of the Somerville Public Library. The stickers from the library were still in them.”

It turned out that the books once were in the possession of his late aunt, Helen Godimis, who grew up in Somerville. As a teenager in the 1930s, she lived at 18 Cottage Ave. and was a patron of the Somerville Public Library’s West Branch on College Avenue.

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But her life was cut short after she became seriously ill from the flu. When she died at age 16 in 1937, she left behind several books from the public library and her school library. They ended up in a wooden box that was stored away in the attic of her family’s home in Somerville, and they sat there for years until the property was sold in 2010, and Alvarez moved the box to the basement of his home, along with other stuff from the house.

It wasn’t until June this year that Alvarez took a closer look and realized that the box contained library books.

Alvarez called the library and told the staff about his discovery.

“I said, ‘I’ve got some overdue books, am I talking to the right people?’ ” he said.

When asked how long the books had been out, Alvarez said: “These are kind of old. They were due back in 1937.’ ”

Alison Mitchell, a librarian and interim branch manager at the West Branch library, was intrigued.

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“We were just really curious: what are these books he found?” she said. “We said sure, bring them over.”

Helen Godimis grew up in Somerville and was a patron of the library in the 1920s and 1930s.
Helen Godimis grew up in Somerville and was a patron of the library in the 1920s and 1930s.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

So, as promised, Alvarez dropped off the books at the library. There were 39 of them in all; some were from the Somerville schools, some were from the library, and others were apparently from his aunt’s personal collection. The oldest editions had copyrights dating back to the 19th century.

“Some of the books are really interesting, from a historical perspective,” Mitchell said.

The 10 books that came from the Somerville Public Library were educational in nature, and included “Carpenter’s New Geographical Reader: Asia,” which was published by the American Book Co. in 1923, and “Language Lessons from Literature, Book One,” which was published by Houghton Mifflin & Co. in 1903.

This is one of the old books that were returned to the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library.
This is one of the old books that were returned to the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The box of books also contained two titles about human sexuality. One was an 1897 edition of “What a Young Man Ought to Know,” from the “Sex and Self Series” by Sylvanus Stall, and the other was a 1928 edition of “Birth Control, Or the Limitation of Offspring,” by Dr. William J. Robinson.

Those were not from the library, she noted.

Mitchell said the timing of Alvarez’s discovery was quite serendipitous, because the West Branch library, which was built in 1909, has been closed for renovations since 2018. It will reopen July 12.

“These have really been hidden for years,” Mitchell said. “The West Branch library just finished a several year renovation. To have these books that are 100 years old come back to building, right when we’re reopening . . . the timing is kind of amazing.”

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And a far as late fees go, Alvarez doesn’t have to worry. Mitchell said as of July 1, the Somerville Public Library is no longer charging fines to people who borrow materials and keep them too long.

Previously the library charged 5 cents a day, up to a maximum of $10. Once a patron hit the $10 limit, they were no longer allowed to check out anything else, she said. (Hypothetically speaking, if Alvarez had to pay a nickel for every day that his aunt’s library books were past due from 1937, that would be roughly 84 years’ worth of fines, which would add up to more than $1,500 per book.)

Some of the books that Alvarez returned are now on display at the West Branch, along with a text explaining the story of how they were found and given back to the library, decades after they were taken out.

“After all these years, they have found their way home!” the text says.

Some of the books are now on display at the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library.
Some of the books are now on display at the West Branch of the Somerville Public Library.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.