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Overdue book finally returned to Massachusetts library after nearly 120 years: 'It's never too late'

West Virginia University’s Rare Books curator discovered in their donations a book that was checked out over a century ago!

Overdue book finally returned to Massachusetts library after nearly 120 years: 'It's never too late'
Cover Image Source: Facebook | New Bedford Free Public Library

A book that was checked out from the New Bedford Free Library in Massachusetts with a return date of December 10, 1903, was recently discovered after nearly 120 years! A West Virginia librarian found the overdue book in a recent donation of books. According to UPI, Stewart Plein, the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries, said someone who donated a stack of books had warned her to keep an eye out for a book that previously belonged to another library. Plein mailed it back to the New Bedford Public Library and librarians noted that the book did not have a "withdrawn" sticker. It meant it still belonged to the Massachusetts Library.


The New Bedford Public Library shared photos of the book "An Elementary Treatise on Electricity" by James Clerk Maxwell on Facebook. "It's never too late to return an overdue library book," the post said. "Today, West Virginia University's Rare Books Curator found in their donations one of our Special Collection's materials- a book that was checked out nearly 120 years ago! The book is titled 'An Elementary Treatise on Electricity' by James Clerk Maxwell and has made the journey back home to #NewBedford! Thank you @West Virginia University!"

Jodi Goodman, the special collections librarian at the New Bedford Public Library, said the book was in great condition when she received it. "It's not often you get a book back after 100 years of circulation," Goodman said, according to WBOY. She noted that the New Bedford Public Library has a limit on late fees of up $2, not to punish readers but to incentivize them to return the book so the library does not have to buy it again. If the library's typical late fee of five cents a day was applied to this book in question from the due date of December 10, 1903, it would be late by around 43,664 days and come out to an uncapped fee of $2,483.20. Goodman assured the library would not be looking to collect the late fees.


In May, a similar story emerged of a person who had borrowed "A History of the United States" by Benson Lossing from a California library nearly a century ago. A man dropped off the book, which had been overdue for 96 years, according to the St. Helena Public Library. During an interview with KPIX, the director Chris Kreiden said, "I'm afraid to touch it." A note inside the book, published in 1892, states, "This book may be kept for two weeks." The book is no longer tightly bound and its pages are tattered. The cover is frayed, as it has obviously seen a lot over the last 141 years.


"One of my staff members brought it, [they] came up and said, 'Oh, somebody had returned that book' and they thought it was really cool," Kreiden explained. "It was a really old book and we didn't realize quite how old it was. It's falling apart. All of us are just, you know, wondering where the book could have been for so long, you know, from being checked out in 1927. And actually, none of us have seen a library book that was checked out in 1892 or anything else. And to have it be from this library from that far back is really incredible."

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