British Columbia

This is a reminder from your library. Your books are now more than 50 years overdue

You're not alone if you've ever kept a library book for an extra couple of days to finish off the last, juicy chapter. But you likely can't match how long these books were overdue.

Books checked out decades ago handed back to Vancouver Public Library

This book was returned to the Vancouver Public Library 47 years overdue. (VPL)

It's a good old fashioned mystery — like the kind you can check out from the Vancouver Public Library.

The VPL recently tweeted that several books returned to its library branches were decades overdue. 

One, a children's book returned to the Mount Pleasant library, was 47 years overdue, and another set of books on arts and history at the Kitsilano branch, were more than 50 years late.

But there was little information on who returned them, and why it took so long. 

Book was 47 years late

The children's book, Sally Go Round the Sun, was dropped off a few years ago with a funny note, even blaming the book for its tardiness.

"I think this book belongs to you. Maybe it walked out and lost its way and couldn't find its way back. So now, it's home again. It's a bad boy but really it's a book and belongs on your shelf," it said.

This note was slipped into the book that was returned to the Vancouver Public Library 47 years late. (VPL)

The note caught librarian Randy Gatley's attention when he was checking the book back in.

"It just give me a laugh," Gatley said. "It kind of brightened up my day a little bit."

He knew it was a late returnee because there wasn't a digital bar code to scan it back in. Instead, there was the telltale sign of an old fashioned cardboard-like stiff paper on the jacket sleeve of the book.

But even then, he didn't expect it to be nearly 50 years overdue. It was due Sept. 12, 1972, exactly 47 years ago today.

Gatley said in all his years as a librarian he had never seen anything this late being returned. 

"Definitely it happens from time to time, you'll see a book come in that's 10 years overdue or something like that. But this was for sure the oldest book I've ever seen returned," he said.

The book is a collection of songs and rhymes by Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke, who was also the host of the CBC Radio program Folk Song Time. 

End of a paper trail

VPL says the three books returned at Kitsilano a few weeks ago were found by a family friend who was helping to clean up a person's estate. 

The books — all about Italian and Roman art and history — were due back between 1963 and 1968. 

These three library books were due back between 1963 and 1968, says Kitsilano head librarian Mark Koep. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Even if privacy wasn't an issue, the VPL wouldn't have been able to trace back who checked out these books. 

"This would have been in ages where everything was kept on paper," Gatley said. "And when things were digitized, they [the librarians] probably went through and just got rid of anything that was so old and considered lost. So that's where the paper trail ended."

Jackpot of fines

The fine for overdue books was five cents per day at the time these books were checked out, so technically the person who checked those books would owe close to $3,000 in fines.

It's impossible to trace who checked out this book 47 years ago, the Vancouver Public Library says. (VPL)

"That's like hitting the jackpot," said Mark Koep, the head librarian at Kitsilano.

But the VPL caps overdue fines at $12 per book, and Koep says it would likely even waive that.

VPL collected $873,300 in overdue fines and printing in 2018, but says it's not focused on that. Koep says the library wants people to borrow their books and not feel encumbered by their fines.

"I think you probably would strike a deal with that person or if you can lower the fine someone... trade it in for a good story about where these books were for half a century."

Do you know more about these overdue books? Email tamara.baluja@cbc.ca

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