Library Borrower Returns Books More Than 50 Years Late

Outdated textbooks return to Portland State University half a century after first being borrowed.



This story was first published on The Reading Room.


We’ve all been there: you borrow a library book, read it, and then forget to return it. For most of us, that means returning books a few days late and paying a small fine. But for one borrower, the oversight lasted for more than 50 years!

As first reported by the Washington Post, the library at Portland State University got an unexpected delivery this month. Two aging books on speech and reading, Basic Principles of Speech and Preface to Critical Reading, were returned to the library. They were bound together with a rubber band.

Along with the books, the borrower included a note.

Photo: Portland State University
Photo: Courtesy of Portland State University

The note reads:

“Borrowed” these books about 1963 for my high school speech class. 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 Outdated—yes—but I’ll let you decide their fate now.

Yikes! That means the books are more than 50 years overdue. So how much does the borrower owe in fines? Well, that’s a moot point: the librarians don’t have records that go back that far, so we may never know who the forgetful borrower was.

Besides, library officials say they aren’t interested in levying any fines against the borrower. “At this point, it’s fun to have them back. It’s not really a problem anymore,” a university spokeswoman told the Washington Post. “We didn’t know we were missing them.”