It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re but days away from finishing your library book. But, what’s this? Something stirs on the check-out receipt you’ve creased into a bookmark: It’s the dreaded due date!
You watched helplessly for weeks as the date crept slowly, but inevitably towards you. Callously devouring your renewals until all you were left with was petrifying visions of your own demise (i.e., the 25 cents-per-day late fee). Now the date has come and, in the presence of its immutable certainty, your book begins to change. The stiff pages and soft corners warp beneath your fingers into a hideous facsimile. Your beloved tome is transformed into something horrid, something grotesque. Something … overdue! For avid library users, overdue books can be a frightening, but common experience. Despite all our best efforts, sometimes items just get returned late. But what’s the most overdue your library items have ever been returned? A day? A week? More?
For Orange County Library System, the record for most overdue item ever returned was set in 1968 when a customer brought the short story collection, What Happened to Forrester? by Edward Phillips Oppenheim, to Orlando Public Library more than 33 years after the title’s original due date. Where had it been all that time? What unnatural force bound the book to its overdue state? It’s a paranormal mystery that may never be solved. Though, while 33 years may sound like a lifetime, other libraries have been plagued by the specters of overdue library books for far, far longer.
In 2017, the book Forty Minutes Late was returned to the San Francisco Public Library 100 years after its due date. The ironically titled book had been checked out in 1917 by one Phoebe Webb, who died before she had a chance to return it. The item remained in the possession of the Webb family for a century before Phoebe’s great-grandson chose to exorcise the family of the cursed book once and for all, returning it to its rightful resting place on the shelves of the library’s fiction section.
According to Guinness Book of World Records, the most overdue library book ever belongs to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, returned 288 years after its original due date. The book had first been checked out by a Colonel Robert Walpole in 1667 or 1668 and summarily returned nearly three centuries later by Professor John Plumb. Some say you can still hear Colonel Walpole’s ghost checking beneath library couch cushions for the shillings needed to pay off his fine.
To learn more about electrifying tales from the history of Orange County Library System, visit orlandomemory.info.