Book lenders and borrowers have a trust

Published Jan 6, 2017 at 4:00pm

Consider this an idea from the Department of Unlikely Tomes: How about a volume about the secret lives of people who forget to return overdue library books?

It could include a recent tale of redemption from the Brooklyn Public Library, where Barbara Roston, 72, returned a faded green copy of “Gone With the Wind” whose origins had long been forgotten. It was only when she took the novel down from her bookshelf to reread it that she found the library bookplate. Also inside was a warning that if the book were not returned, a nickel-a-day fine would be assessed from Nov. 19, 1959 onward — apparently, in perpetuity.

Roston returned the book forthwith. According to The New York Times — we will trust its math on this — on the day she returned the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and the fall of the old South, the fine had reached $1,042, give or take a dime.

When Roston entered the Crown Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, she confessed to the first librarian she saw and handed over the copy. Looking at the volume, a children’s librarian said, “Oh, wow, this looks like, from a long time ago. This is, like, a relic.” A more senior librarian explained to younger colleagues how library books were processed before scanners. “They just looked at me blankly,” she said.

The march of time and technology did work in Roston’s favor. The book had never been entered in the library’s computer system, so no fine was assessed. Roston, free of obligation, made a $50 donation, an honorable act. But the volume isn’t going back on the shelves — it will be put on display as a reminder that it’s important to return books.

A similar tale happened just before Christmas at the Montgomery Public Libraries in Maryland. Librarians received a check out of the blue for $1,552 from a scrupulous son, identified as Jon Kramer of Minnesota. His parents had borrowed two books — The “New Way of the Wilderness” and “365 Meatless Main Dishes” — in the early 1970s. They had since moved to Ontario, Canada; their son found the volumes while cleaning out their home. All ended happily: He asked that he be allowed to retain the two books as a keepsake; the library will use the money to purchase many new ones.

Of course, most library lost-and-found tales are less eventful. We like to think that says something good about the bond of trust between lenders and borrowers of books. It is timeless, though it’s also worth recalling that borrowing privileges are not.