Better later than never? Library book returned 73 years after being borrowed

The book was due back in November 1948 (OnFife/PA)
The book was due back in November 1948 (OnFife/PA)

A library book has been returned more than 73 years late.

Stately Timber by Rupert Hughes – an adventure story set in Boston US – should have been returned to what was then Dunfermline Public Libraries’ Central Library in Abbot Street on November 6, 1948.

However, staff at the Fife library, now Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries (DCL&G), were stunned to receive a parcel containing the book last week.

It had been found by the borrower’s daughter and posted back from Cromarty on the Black Isle more than seven decades late.

The book was accompanied by a letter (OnFife/PA)

Donna Dewar, a cultural services assistant at DCL&G, said: “I burst our laughing when I opened the parcel, I couldn’t believe it.

“We had a book returned to our Rosyth branch after 14 years recently, which we thought was amazing enough, but this was way beyond anything we’ve heard of.”

She added: “For a bit of fun we worked out how much could have been due in fees and it comes to a whopping £2,847.

“It arrived with a lovely letter from the borrower’s daughter who was able to give us a bit of detail.”

OnFife Libraries have had an amnesty on late fees throughout the pandemic to encourage members to return books.

In the letter, the borrower’s daughter explained her late father had lived in Thornton in Fife in 1948 but she will never know whether he simply forgot to return Stately Timber or chose to keep it.

We’re thrilled to have received it

Christine McLean, OnFife

She also wrote: “I find it fascinating to see the dates of when this book was taken out, during the latter year of WW2 and that the war ended between stamps marked by librarians.

“Life goes on around momentous historical events.”

The inside pages of the book show the date stamps – and advice that “This book may only be retained for 14 days”.

Christine McLean, OnFife’s head of cultural heritage and wellbeing, said: “We’re thrilled to have received it – especially as this week is Book Week Scotland when we’re doing so much to promote our libraries – and we look forward to finding a special place to display the book, and the story of its journey, in our Local Studies section at DCL&G.”

The Guinness World record for the most overdue library book is held by one returned to Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, England, that was borrowed in 1668 and given back 288 years later.

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