A 1902 copy of Nathan Haskell Dole’s “Famous Composers vol. 2” was finally returned to the St. Paul Public Library in Minnesota last week after being checked out in 1919.
This long-overdue book “was found by a patron in Hennepin County while sorting through their mother’s belongings,” St. Paul Public Library explained in an X post.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in an X post, “Our @stpaullibrary just received a book that was returned… wait for it… 100 years overdue! At the 1919 rate of a penny per day, that would have been a $36k fine… but #SaintPaul is a #FineFreeLibrary system so no charge!”
The library’s digital coordinator, John Larson, took the lead in discovering this book’s history. The Guardian reported that this “was the most overdue book he ever saw returned in his 25 years working for the library.”
Where has the book been?
There are two stamps on the back page of the book, the first reading June 4, 1914, and the second Jan. 17, 1916. When this copy of “Famous Composers” came to St. Paul, it was likely first shelved in Old Market Hall while the central library was under construction. The hall caught fire in 1915, and 160,000 volumes were destroyed.
However, roughly a third of the city’s collection was checked out at that time, and St. Paul Library predicts that this was “probably one of the lucky few that survived,” and was likely “re-added to the collection in 1916” before the Central Library opened in 1917.
From its debut on the newly opened library’s shelves in 1917 to its final checkout in 1919, the slip on the back of the book reported it was borrowed several times.
The first indication of this book’s journey are two stamps on the back page. One reads June 4, 1914, and the other reads January 17, 1916, which tell us this book was probably entered into the Library’s catalog twice. pic.twitter.com/8SQDQKw373— Saint Paul Public Library (@stpaullibrary) November 17, 2023
Will the book be available for checkout again?
Though the book was only checked out several times, it’s in fragile condition and will likely not be available for checkout again.
However, Larson said the St. Paul Library will hold onto it. “It has reached a point where it’s not just an old book — it’s an artifact. It has a little bit of history to it,” he said, per the New York Post.
He added, “There’s been a time or two when something has come back and maybe it has been checked out for 20 or 30 years, but nothing where it looks like it has been out for some 100 years,” he said. “Maybe once every five or 10 years we will see something that is incredibly overdue.”