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Bookworm paid $1550 Late Fees for Library Books Taken Out in 1970s

NPS Photo. This is not the man in question.
NPS Photo. This is not the man in question.

Jon Kramer, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was sorting through some possessions belonging to his late parents at their holiday cabin in Canada, when he came across two books that had formed part of his family’s history for the past 40 years.

When he opened the books, he was astounded to find old computer punch cards that were used many years ago to identify books in the library system.  Finding the cards led him to believe that both books belonged to the Montgomery County Library; they had been checked out of the Twinbrook Branch of the library over 40 years previously but were never returned.

Kramer is a lover of books, and while he was loathe to return the borrowed items, he was also well aware that they did not actually belong to his family.  So he decided that he would write to the library, enclose the late fee fine, and beg to be allowed to keep the books without incurring the wrath of the law.

The letter that he wrote to the library spoke eloquently of how he and his family had adored the library and read its books on a regular basis.  He told the library that the books at the cabin had become “a naturalized part of their home” and were precious items in his family history.

The first book, The New Way of Wilderness by Calvin Rutstrum, was taken out in June, 1973.  The second book, 365 Meatless Main Dishes by William Kaufman, was taken out in December, 1974.  Collectively, the books had been overdue for over 31,000 days, or 85 years, at the time Kramer discovered their origin and wrote the letter.  Kramer remembered that the fine for overdue books in the mid-1970s was 5 cents per day, so calculating the overdue fine to be US$1,552.30, he included a check for that amount with his letter.

Then Kramer addressed what should be done with the books.  He could return them a little bit late or, as he suggested, the books might remain in the family’s possession for another 40 years or so, at which time they would send another contribution to the library’s coffers.  He finishes, much tongue-in-cheek, by saying that he hopes that the library will not report him to the FBI for trafficking stolen goods over an international border.

The Director at the Montgomery County Library, B. Parker Hamilton, was delighted to receive Kramer’s letter and responded in kind. He described Kramer’s letter as a “love letter” and thanked him for the donation to the library.  He assured Kramer that the library staff would not be sending the FBI or any other law enforcement agency to reclaim their property!  He closed by saying he hoped this story would become part of the family’s collective history, to be shared with future generations.

Montgomery County Public Library. photo Credit
Montgomery County Public Library. photo Credit

Many of us have been members of a library, and most everyone has at one time or another returned a book late, but one of the longest recorded overdue library books was taken out by none other than George Washington.  The book, The Law of Nations by Emmerich de Vattel, was borrowed from the New York Society Library; for the next 221 years, it remained in his collection, looked after by the staff at Mount Vernon in Virginia.  When it was returned to the library in 2010 the late fee of over US$300,000 was waived by the library, Mail Online reported.

Read another story from us: Library of Trinity College, Dublin: 300-year-old library that houses 200,000 books

The heart-warming tale of overdue library books, a family that treasures the written word, and a wonderful donation to the library that will benefit future readers is the stuff of fairy tales.  One wonders if the family will, in 40 years time, make a further donation to the library.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News