How late is too late to return a book to the library? For one library in Napa County, California, the answer is never: After it was checked out 96 years ago, a historical book was turned in to the establishment by a mystery man.
The book — A History of the United States by Benson Lossing — doesn’t have a spine and the pages are “falling apart,” according to Chris Kreiden, director of the St. Helena Public Library where the artifact was returned. As worn as it is, the old text appears to have the special beauty (and likely, the nostalgic scent) that only belongs to old books.
“I’m afraid to touch it,” Kreiden told CBS affiliate KPIX-TV of the book, which was returned in May.
So how did this book make its way back to the library nearly a century later?
It started with a mystery: One of Kreiden’s staff members was working a shift at the library when a man returned the book without leaving any contact information. While the library worker thought the book was “really cool,” they didn’t realize exactly how much time had passed since it was originally checked out.
“All of us are just, you know, wondering where the book could have been for so long, you know, from being checked out in 1927,” Kreiden said. “And actually, none of us have seen a library book that was checked out in 1892 or anything else. And to have it be from this library from that far back is really incredible.”
Fortunately, a library note with the date “February 21, 1927” stamped on it was tucked in the book, indicating just how long it had been overdue down to the day. In the back of the book, another note reads: “This book may be kept for two weeks.”
It’s estimated the book borrower would be charged $1,700, if the library still charged late fees, per KPIX. Although, Kreiden said, “I don’t think that we would have charged that much at any point.” Instead, the library director explained she and her team were more interested in the story behind the book.
What places had it been? Who had it been with? Their questions didn’t stay unanswered for long.
According to the Washington Post, the mystery was solved after Kreiden shared the library’s exciting new-yet-old shelf addition story with the local newspaper, which then got picked up by TV stations. That’s when the man who returned the book, Jim Perry, saw his delightful gesture was making headlines.
“I didn’t know how special it was,” Perry, 75, told The Post, explaining that he found the book while cleaning and sifting through old boxes in his house. He said the book had been in their family for five generations and was likely checked out by his grandfather-in-law.
The book’s reunion came full circle when Perry contacted the library and learned that the book “had probably been part of the library’s original collection, as well as part of the inventory at another former location — the Carnegie Building, which was built in 1908,” the outlet reported.
When it comes to doing the right thing no matter how much time has passed, we can all take a page out of Perry’s book. As one user commented on the library’s Instagram post about the book, “This is amazing. I know the book wasn’t returned in the best shape but it was RETURNED and that’s something in this day and age!”
Kreiden told The Post the book may be moved to an archival box or the local historical society for preservation. But for now, the book is in safekeeping inside a display case at the library, reminding customers of a simple yet important message: “It’s never too late to return your library book,” said Kreiden.