Borrower returns books 52 years late to Portland State University’s library … – OregonLive.com

Memo to the person who anonymously returned two books to the Portland State University Library 52 years after borrowing them:  

You can drop the Groucho-glasses disguise. Even if you’d signed your confession, the library would not have billed you, because it doesn’t fine people anymore. Stop worrying about an angry librarian knocking on your door.

It’s a fact. Approximately 52 years after taking out a couple of books from Portland State’s library, an unidentified patron has returned them. The well-thumbed volumes showed up in a book drop this month, paired by a rubber band that also held a handwritten note.

borrowedbooks.jpgAn unsigned note accompanied two books returned 52 years late to Portland State University’s Branford Price Millar Library. Joan Petit, communications and outreach librarian, is grateful for their return and says the library no longer levies fines for overdue books. 

“‘Borrowed’ these books about 1963 for my high-school speech class,” the individual wrote. “They have moved with me many times.”

“It is now time for them (to) go back home. Outdated – yes – but I’ll let you decide their fate now.”

Joan Petit, a university librarian, says that the two books, “Basic Principles of Speech” and “Preface to Critical Reading,” are so old that staff members don’t know what to do with them.

So much has changed in libraries and academia since Jan. 3, 1963, the date one of the books was checked out. Searchable databases have replaced card catalogs. The Library of Congress classification method has supplanted the Dewey Decimal System.

Digital archives have cut the number books on shelves, freeing space for computer labs and group-study rooms. Portland State College has long since grown into a university.

Managers of the school’s library no longer levy fines, but they do charge a flat $110 replacement fee for a lost book. Librarians empathize with the borrower who did the right thing a half century late.

“We don’t care who it is,” Petit said. “We’d just like to say, ‘Thank you, and we’re sorry they felt so bad.'”

The two returned books contain underlines in pen and pencil. Their hardback spines and covers are slightly frayed. Their absence went unnoticed for many years among the library’s 1.43 million books, but nowhere near as long as the world’s most overdue book ever returned.

That would be 288 years, a record set in the 1950s after Professor Sir John Plumb of Britain’s Cambridge University found a book borrowed almost three centuries earlier, according to Guinness World Records.

Guinness reports that the largest fine ever charged for an overdue book was $345.14, or 2 cents a day for the 47 years it took a poetry collection to find its way back to the Kewanee, Illinois, public library.

Portland State’s Petit can relate.

“My family has lost books,” she said. “I have kids, and we’ve actually had to pay a replacement fee. Sometimes librarians can be the worst at returning books on time.”

Richard Read

503-294-5135,   rread@oregonian.com

Follow on Twitter: @ReadOregonian