'Welcome back home, lost one!' Hamilton library celebrates return of book after 27 years

The last time The Perennial Philosophy was seen at the HPL Terryberry branch, Bryan Adams' Please Forgive Me was at the top of the charts in Canada and Jean Chrétien had just been elected prime minister for the first time.

'We hope the book has had a great few decades away,' says director of collections

A copy of The Perennial Philosophy was recently returned to Hamilton Public Library after more than 27 years. The library recently got rid of late fees and fines. (Supplied by Hamilton Public Library)

A mystery more than 27 years in the making recently dropped into a return bin of a Hamilton Public Library (HPL) branch.

Its teal and navy dust jacket is nice enough, but its title, The Perennial Philosophy, might tempt readers into a cliché and judge a book by its cover.

From the front it's hard to see how the book by Aldous Huxley is different from the thousands that line shelves across the city but on the back, stamped in fading blue ink, is a surprise — it was last checked out on Dec. 13, 1993.

That's more than 27 years and eight months ago.

The last time the book was seen at the Terryberry branch, Bryan Adams was at the top of the charts in Canada with Please Forgive Me and Jean Chrétien had just been elected prime minister for the first time.

Lisa Radha Weaver, director of collections and program development at HPL, said she's not sure where it's been all this time, but hopes it was well-read and enjoyed.

"We do know that our books go on a lot of adventures in our city, our country, around the world," she said with a laugh.

"We hope the book has had a great few decades away from Hamilton Public Library."

No more late fees at HPL

Currently 7,606 library items are considered lost, according to staff. While the figure may seem high, it represents just under 0.8 per cent of its collection.

However, that number doesn't include titles that are long gone like The Perennial Philosophy was because items marked lost before December 2018 are deleted from the system, explained library spokesperson Melanie Cummings.

The DVD collection is the section with the most missing items, she added, saying they're returned less frequently than any other item.

Earlier this year, HPL permanently did away with late fees and fines, saying it was spending more to administer fees than it was collecting and that fees kept away people who needed library services most.

The Hamilton Public Library no longer charges late fees and other fines. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Of the more than 7,600 items that are "lost" today, 86 per cent were checked out in 2019, before the library became fine-free, said the library.

Weaver said staff have heard from users who said they've felt much less stress using the library and returning overdue books without fear of fines.

Members 'more important' than lost material

The library is excited to see any item returned, no matter how long it's been away, she said, admitting even she sometimes forgets to return a title right away.

Weaver added that anyone who feels uncomfortable dropping material off in person can drop it off anonymously in a return box.

"We know sometimes overdues happen because of the monsters under the bed or because everything can fall to the bottom of a knapsack," she said.

"Our members are more important to us than … the overdues and losts that might happen occasionally."

But that doesn't mean the library wasn't thrilled to see The Perennial Philosophy come back.

HPL tweeted out a trio of pictures of the book, along with a message declaring, "Welcome back home, lost one!"

Huxley is best-known for his 1932 novel Brave New World, but The Perennial Philosophy is non-fiction.

A profile offered on the Penguin Random House Canada website describes it as a "thorough and articulate comparison of different forms of mysticism" — a topic Weaver acknowledged might take some time to digest.

It's not clear what the future holds for the book after its time on the lam.

The library's catalogue currently shows the title is offered there as an e-book.

But Weaver said the old-fashioned paper version will have to be evaluated for its condition. There's a chance it may end up being recycled — a rough end after decades on the run.