Woman returns overdue library book sixty-three years later; TPL to begin phasing out overdue fines

Facade of TPL’s Lillian H. Smith branch
Overdue fines are thought to disproportionately target minority communitites

It’s been said that no true booklover’s collection is complete without at least one copy of a book stolen from a library. What is being referred to in most cases is not quite intentional theft, but long overdue books that have been misplaced on a reader’s shelves, missed during a move, or otherwise neglected for years until the wayward borrower uncovers them and realizes that they likely owe a hefty fine.

Case in point: a children’s book called Ol’ Paul, the Mighty Logger by Glen Rounds, recently returned to the Queens Public Library in Flushing, New York. The book, which appeared in the mailroom, had a due date of July 10, 1957.

According to the New York Times, the borrower was a ten-year-old resident of Whitestone, Queens, named Betty Diamond. Now a resident of Madision, Wisconsin, Diamond returned the book along with a cheque for $500 USD, which “more than covered the late fees.”

From the NYT:

As the years went by, and Betty became a teenager at Bayside High School, and then an undergraduate at Queens College, the book simply got lost in the shuffle of her young life. On the odd occasion that she came across it, she said, she couldn’t bring herself to deal with the issue.

Throwing it out was out of the question. “I have a great fondness for books and I really regard them with honour,” said Ms. Diamond, who, in case readers need further proof, ultimately received her PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and would later go on to teach literature at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Ol’ Paul travelled with her wherever she went, she said, except for a graduate school stint in England, when it stayed in her childhood bedroom.

Many library patrons of a certain age likely have stories similar to Diamond’s, though a recent change by the Toronto Public Library may make the financial part of the equation obsolete.

Earlier this month, the TPL announced it was eliminating overdue fines on children’s books checked out with a child’s library card. This move, taken in part to increase accessibility (library fines are thought to disproportionately target minority populations and deter members of those populations from using the library) and in part to mitigate risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, has the potential to extend to all patrons, subject to a 2022 budget increase.

The financial shortfall from cancelling all fines is expected to be $1.4 million, which the system hopes to make up through donations and increased operating funds from government.

Patrons will still be on the hook to pay for lost, damaged, or unreturned materials, so sixty-three years down the road, a future TPL librarian might still stumble across a long-lost treasure in the mail.

Woman returns overdue library book sixty-three years later; TPL to begin phasing out overdue fines