This Overdue Library Book Was Just Returned 119 Years Later

It finally found its way back to the New Bedford library in Massachusetts. 

James Clerk Maxwell's An Elementary Treatise on Electricity was checked out from the New Bedford Public Library on February 14, 1904. Stewart Plein, the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries, found it 119 years later while sorting through a donation. According to NPR, it had not been stamped "Withdrawn," indicating that while extremely overdue, the book had not been discarded. Plein contacted Jodi Goodman, the Special Collections Librarian in New Bedford, to alert her that it'd been found.

"This came back in extremely good condition," New Bedford Public Library Director Olivia Melo said. "Someone obviously kept this on a nice bookshelf because it was in such good shape and probably got passed down in the family." She went on to explain how the library occasionally receives books as much as 10 or 15 years overdue, but nothing close to a century or more.

The last time the book was in New Bedford, the nation was preparing for its second modern World Series, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was on track to win another term, Wilbur and Orville Wright had conducted their first airplane flight a year before and NYC was celebrating its first subway line.

"The value of the printed book is it's not digital, it's not going to disappear. Just holding it, you get the sense of someone having this book 120 years ago and reading it, and here it is in my hands," Melo said. "It is still going to be here a hundred years from now. The printed book is always going to be valuable."

The New Bedford library has a 5-cent/day late fee. Someone returning a book overdue by 119 years would have a fee of more than $2,100, but luckily for the book borrower, the library's late fee limit maxes out at $2.

Melo says it's never too late to return a library book. 

New Bedford Public Free Library in Massachusetts

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