Most Overdue Library Book of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe public library system depends on the honesty of its patrons. It offers a veritable world of books for free (paid for by your tax dollars, of course); however, if you check out a book, you should care for it (as opposed to using it as a coaster for your Starbucks iced vanilla latte) and return it before the due date. But we’re human — sometimes, a library book is temporarily misplaced and forgotten; days or weeks later it is discovered. Sure it’s embarrassing to face a scowling librarian as you humbly pay the overdue fines. But it feels good to do the right thing, right?

But what if instead of day or weeks, it was years — or, imagine — centuries. Yes, centuries. Fear not, there is an individual who is the poster boy of the most overdue library book of all time. That would be Colonel Robert Walpole (1650-1700), an English Whig politician, who borrowed a biography of the Archbishop of Bremen from the library of Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge in 1668. It must have been a damned good read, because Walpole never bothered to return it. The book was finally returned to the library in 1956 — 288 years later! — after a professor, Sir John Plumb, found the book in the library of Houghton Hall, a country house built for Walpole between 1722 and 1735. Fortunately, Plumb was not fined for his good deed. Today, the fine for overdue books at many libraries is 10 cents a day; at that rate Plumb would have had to pay overdue fees of $10,512!

Across the pond, in second place, is George Washington (1732-1799), Founding Father and America’s first president, who borrowed The Law of Nations by Joseph Chitty from the New York Society Library in 1789. Washington must have loved Chitty’s book. It was finally discovered at Washington’s home in Virginia in 2010 and returned to the library — 221 years later! Head librarian, Mark Bartlett, noted that at current rate of overdue fees, Washington would have had to pay $300,000! He would have to sell a lot of tobacco to pay that bill…

Read related posts: A Tale of Two Donkeys and a Mobile Library
Lacuna: The Library Made Out of Books
 I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

For further reading:–1700)


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