“The United States in World War I” was checked out from the Lexington Public Library in 1968.
On Tuesday, 50 years later, the book was returned to the library’s Tates Creek branch on Walden Drive via the United States Postal Service.
“50 years pass (sic) due. Checked out in 1968. Sorry. Dale H.,” said the note with the book.
The book was returned, apparently in good condition, and was posted with a return address from a leafy Cape Cod home in Marietta, Georgia. (Thanks, Google.)
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Tates Creek branch manager Elliot Appelbaum said the long-delayed return is not as uncommon as you might think. Fifty years is kind of notable in the library sluggard department, though.
“We get packages, returns all the time,” Appelbaum said. “People go out of town, they forget, they move.”
While the identity of the procrastinating patron was initially a mystery, a little online searching found him.
Dale Hutchins of Marietta responded to questions from the Herald-Leader on Facebook Messenger and said that he hoped “to get good karma for this act. ... That book spent 35 years in Texas storage, then 15 years in Georgia storage.”
Hutchins said he attended Tates Creek Elementary and Lansdowne elementary schools in the 1960s before his family moved to Texas in 1970.
So what could a 50-year library fine cost Hutchins.?
Library fines are 15 cents a day per volume and cap at $6.75. After that, the user account would be charged the publisher price for the book. Fines can sometimes be “read off” if the patron reads while in the library. But the library has no plans to fine Hutchins.
“We welcome returns at any point,” Appelbaum said. “It’s a bit unusual for something that old to be returned to us.”
Copies of the out-of-print book by Don Lawson are available on Amazon from 95 cents to $29.95, all from third-party sellers.
This particular copy may have a special place in the Tates Creek branch — “my office, most likely,” Applebaum said — where patrons can come take a look at one of the most overdue books since TV’s Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza forgot to return that naughty Henry Miller volume and were pursued by the “library police.”
Fines notwithstanding, “We want people to come back to the library. We still value our customers.”
So never you mind about what Thomas Wolfe said, Dale: You can go home again. Your library still welcomes you.