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Better Late Than Never
A recent Mental Floss article about overdue library books reminded me of a book the Mid-Manhattan Library received in the mail last year. It was mailed from Arizona. It was overdue. Its due date: August 17, 1959.
Why is society so stigmatized about returning library books late?
Is it a fear of disapproval? The guilty feelings brought about by abusing a free resource and depriving others of those resources? The Seinfeld episode only increased these guilty associations. You know the one: a long overdue copy of Tropic of Cancer and the quick, hardboiled reprimands from the library cop named Bookman.
An overdue book is nothing to be ashamed of. Let's face it, accidents happen and sometimes books are returned past their due date. It's a small mistake that should not keep you away from the Library.
Which brings me to the library book we received, overdue by almost 54 years.
I imagine the patron feeling so guilty about the lateness that weeks turned into months, months into years, and years into decades.
The patron probably thought we would look down upon him as he shuffled into the Library, head down in disgrace, to return the overdue book.
Perhaps it was the book's subject matter that prevented the book from being returned. The book was Ideal Marriage, by Th.H. Van de Velde, M.D. As for a description of the book, I'll venture only so far as to say it's a very wordy and very scientific instruction manual for sexual activity written in 1926. However dry and scientific, it is certainly more juicy than Tropic of Cancer!
In addition to the guilt associated with overdue fines the patron also had to bear the humiliation of returning such a lurid book!
As a librarian, I instantly searched the book for marginalia, wondering if patrons of years past might have taken the liberty to highlight their favorite passages or add notes, but there was only one sentence underlined dealing with men who "only care to relieve their own tensions and care nothing for their wives as an individual or mate."
The book was returned with an apologetic note:
We found this book amongst my late brother-in-law's things. Funny thing is the book didn't support his efforts with his first (and only) marriage... it failed! No wonder he hid the book! So sorry!!
A shocked in-law