British Columbia

B.C. man returns book to U.K. library — more than 48 years overdue

Staff at the Tooting Library in London, U.K., were shocked when they received a book that appeared to have been last checked out on Feb. 19, 1974. 

A retired B.C. provincial court judge found the book recently while cleaning his house

In 1974, Tony Spence checked out the book, A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan, from Tooting Library in London. (Submitted by Tony Spence (portrait), Wandsworth Libraries (book))

What is the latest you've ever returned an overdue library book? 

For one B.C. man, it took 48 years and 107 days. 

Staff at the Tooting Library in London, U.K., were shocked when they received a book on Monday that appeared to have been last checked out on Feb. 19, 1974. 

The book, A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan, arrived in the mail from Port Moody, B.C. 

"We got a mysterious package in the post ... it said it had come back from Port Moody but there was no other information, there was no note," said Christopher Arnsby, operations manager with Wandsworth Libraries. 

 

The library staff decided to post on Twitter to see if anyone could tell them where it came from. 

Since the library didn't have a computer system until the late 1980s, Arnsby said they didn't have records from before that time, and were not aware the book was missing. 

He said he believes this may be their longest-overdue book returned.

"So far as I'm aware this is the current record-holder," he told CBC.

Christopher Arnsby, operations manager with Wandsworth Libraries in London, pictured on Zoom holding a copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan. (Michelle Gomez/CBC News)

He said the fine for the overdue book would be around £6,000 (roughly $9,440 at the time of publication) if the library didn't cap fees at £8.50 (roughly $13). But Arnsby said they are waiving the fine for this case. 

"It seemed a bit unreasonable to charge a fine given that he'd gone through all the trouble of sending it back from Canada."

When asked what he would like to say to the sender, Arnsby responded: 

"Thank you very much for returning the book. They kept it for so long I hope they read it more than once and I hope they enjoyed it." 

Mystery solved

The man who returned the book was Tony Spence, a former B.C. provincial court judge who resides in Belcarra, which borders Port Moody on the northwest. A BBC reporter tracked him down through a Port Moody Facebook group. 

"We were doing a deep purge, sort of Marie Kondo type of thing," Spence told CBC.

He said he found a box in the corner of their crawlspace that was full of magazines from when they lived in London — along with one very overdue library book. 

The book was last checked out on Feb. 19, 1974, and the Tooting Library in London received the book back in the mail on Monday. Christopher Arnsby said they have waived the overdue fines for the book. (Wandsworth Libraries)

Spence said he has no recollection of checking out or reading the book, although he does remember reading a different book by the same author, Trout Fishing in America

"He was a cult figure at the time, quite well-known," said Spence. 

Spence intended to include a note in the package when he mailed it in April. But when he got to the post office, he realized he had forgotten to write it and couldn't be bothered, he said.

"I was going to apologize to all those people who placed a hold on it over the last 50 years."

Tony Spence, a retired B.C. provincial court judge, says he does not recall checking out or reading the book that he returned over 48 years after its due date. (Submitted by Tony Spence)

Spence said he wants to give other people the chance to read it. He hopes the library will put it on display so people can rediscover the author. 

Arnsby said given the interest in the book's journey, the library will place the book in a display case along with related news clippings for the time being. 

He said it was returned in really good condition, and they may put it straight back on the shelves after the display. 

"I'd certainly encourage other people to check their shelves and see if there's anything lurking on there ... bring them back to Tooting Library and borrow some more books, but try to get them back within the limit," said Arnsby. 

Spence said he is glad the book arrived safely and can be enjoyed by others. 

"I hope they'd get a bit of a chuckle out of it, and I think they did because they decided to waive the late fines."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

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