A book that was due more than 78 years ago was returned this week to the Attleboro Public Library. Under the current rules, the fine for being that overdue would be a whopping $2,800 — but the library says it’s ready to turn the page.
When one of the library’s regular visitors walked in and dropped a copy of “The Young Lady at Home,” a book written by T.S. Arthur in the 19th century, down on the front desk, the staff was shocked, said Amy Rhilinger, the library’s assistant director, who was working when the book was returned earlier this week.
“We were amazed,” she said. “I’ve worked here for 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“It’s very, very unusual to have something come back that’s been out that long,” added Joan Pilkington-Smyth, director of the library.
Rhilinger said the man, whose name she did not know, was helping to clean out a friend’s basement when he spotted the book and recognized the library’s stamp and due date card inside.
The card showed the book was due on Nov. 21, 1938, although Rhilinger said there’s been some speculation that the year reads 1936 instead of 1938.
Rhilinger said the library currently charges patrons 10 cents for each additional day it takes them to return a book after the due date. At that rate, the person who checked out the book during the Great Depression would owe the library $2,800, a steep price to pay for being forgetful.
Fortunately for that person, the Attleboro Public Library isn’t looking to collect the fee. In fact, Rhilinger said the library’s staff didn’t even know the book was missing.
“We’re not the library police. We’re not tracking everyone’s things,” she said. “Everyone returns things a few [days] late, and it’s one thing we joke about here.”
Even librarians occasionally forget to immediately return books to the shelves after reading them, Rhilinger admitted.
Once the sense of bewilderment faded, Rhilinger said she was touched by the fact that the man took the time to return the book instead of discarding it.
“We found it unusual, but it was pretty heartwarming,” she said. “Nobody wants to throw a book away.”
That’s why she suspected the book found its way back to the library after all these years.
Perhaps it got packed away during a move, Rhilinger speculated. Maybe it was boxed up to be saved for future generations. Perhaps it was read time and time again, only to be forgotten on a basement shelf, waiting to be discovered once more.
“Lots of times when things are overdue, it’s because a library book got put on a shelf with a patron’s own materials,” she said. “People hate to get rid of books.”
After library staff photographed the book, they were left with no other choice but to dispose of it.
The book was in such bad condition the library couldn’t put it back on the shelves. Rhilinger said it could have been exposed to rodents or mold over the years, putting other books in the library’s collection of thousands at risk of being damaged.
“We no longer have the book,” she said. “Saying that it is in a state of disrepair is an understatement.”
Regardless of where the book traveled during the years it was unaccounted for, Rhilinger said, one thing is for sure: Its saga has finally come to a close.Alyssa Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.