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Long Overdue Library Books

Updated on August 21, 2018
Virginia Allain profile image

A librarian through and through, Virginia Allain writes about book topics, research, and information for library users and librarians.


Amazing Stories of Library Books Returned after Many Years

Mention "overdue library books" and many people cringe. At some time, most library users have a small delinquency, pay their fine and continue happily patronizing their library. A few with overdue books that never get returned feel a real twinge of guilty conscience. It weighs on their mind, but somehow the book remains in their possession. Years pass and the library gives up hope of ever seeing that book again.

Sometimes, like a miracle, the long delinquent book shows up at the library. The borrower wants to clear their record and do the right thing by returning the book. Here are stories of long overdue books being reunited with the library.

Famous People with Overdue Library Books - Even George Washington was a delinquent borrower

The father of our country is known for his "I cannot tell a lie" statement. We think that, of all people, George Washington would never keep a book that wasn't his. I'm sure the unreturned library book was merely an oversight, but it sure makes an interesting story.

Read the Rest of the Story

  • If George Washington were still around today, he'd have a massive overdue library fine to pay. New York City's oldest library says according to its records, the president owes 220 years' worth of late fees on two books he borrowed. Here's the whole story: George Washington Overdue Library Books: Fine Would Be $300,000

George Washington and His Overdue Library Books

ASK THE LIBRARIAN about Your Overdue Books

Answers by Virginia Allain
I had borrowed a couple of books from the library a few days before my aunt and uncle's house was destroyed in a tornado, and of course, my library books were inside (in addition to my computer which was found hanging off of the side of the house). I'm not sure if the librarian totally believed me when I showed up to pay for the books and explained that a tornado blew them away!
A photo or a news clipping might convince the librarian to forgive your fines in a situation like this. The library has to replace the items so paying for them is the right thing for you to do.
When my daughters were young, we somehow missed returning a children's book on time. I found it in my daughter's room about two months later. I couldn't believe how much we were charged for that well worn book. I could have gone to a bookstore and bought them a new copy for far less.
Some libraries do allow the borrower to bring in a substitute copy for a lost book. The additional costs of adding labels and cataloging complicate this.
I spent years not going to the library because we owed over $24 for overdue books. I finally paid that off and we visited weekly for a couple of years. I now find myself in the same boat. I don't owe that much but yet I've not made it to the library for many months because I owe fine for overdue books. I really need to pay that out of my next check as I have a list of books we were using in our homeschooling that we didn't get to finish.
First return the books so the fines stop accumulating. Talk to the librarian about a way to work off the fine if it's too big for your budget. Don't be embarrassed. They won't make you post a sign in your yard saying "I didn't return my library books."

What's the Longest Time That an Overdue Library Book Was Out - and then returned?

As far as I could find, the case with George Washington (above) was the longest with 221 years.

Here are some contenders, but none as long as George's overdue book

This Book Was 99 Years Overdue!

Managing Library Overdues - Book for librarians

We may laugh about the idea of our first president having an overdue library book or be amazed when a book gets returned 23 years too late. For librarians, it is no laughing matter. Unreturned books are a real headache in the library. Usually it's a really popular title that goes out and doesn't come back. People keep asking for it and are annoyed with the library for not having it on the shelf.

The library sometimes dredges up the money to replace the most needed books, but often the book budget is already stretched to the max trying to get the new books people want as well. What to do? Read this book to find some solutions to overdue books.

Managing Overdues (How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians)
Managing Overdues (How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians)
I've used a number of Neal Schuman How-To-Do-It manuals for librarians and always find them very practical and they give clear steps for procedures. I use these for training staff, setting up policies, and keep them on hand to refer to as situations arise.

What's the Longest Time You've Kept a Book Overdue - from a library

Vote in the anonymous poll

See results

Tips for Returning Books on Time

I asked friends how they remembered to return their library books. Here are their suggestions.

zentao 5 years ago - Now that I have a kindle, I don't use the libray much anymore, I just get a lot of free books online (and some purchased) which saves money on those overdue books

pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY - It has only happened to me on one or two occasions. The books were overdue by only a day or so because I had lost track of the due dates! My library sends out emails prior to books being due which helps me to remember better now.

Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia - The ability to renew online these days is perfect for never having an overdue book.

Edutopia 5 years ago - nowadays pretty much everyone has an online calendar of some sort. As soon as you check the book out make a calendar event on the due date and set an alarm for yourself the day before its due to remind you.

Kim from Yonkers, NY - Try reading at least 1-3 chapters a day. (read during tv commercials, while waiting for appointments, on breaks etc.)

SteveKaye - The best way to make sure that you return library books on time is to marry a librarian. Trust me, this works. Guaranteed.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. - I love that I can access the library online so I know before I head out what is due, what I can renew and what has to be returned and when. I have been guilty of being late (lost book, my dog ate my book, whatever) in the past but I'm much better now!

Library Book Returned 10 Years Later

What Should I Do about My Overdue Book?

  1. Return it. Don't worry about the fine or the librarian being mad at you. Just return it.

    If you're embarrassed, drive up late at night and slip it into the book return bin or return slot. If the library doesn't have one, ask a friend to take it into the library if you just can't face the library staff.

    The fines stop accumulating at the time you return the book, so the sooner, the better.

  2. Pay up. You will owe money for the overdue fine in most libraries. Many have a maximum fine, so it stops at $5 or $10. Look on the library's web site to see if that information is there or call and ask anonymously if they have a maximum fine on overdue books.

    Usually they aren't going to charge you for every day of the 11 years you had the book out overdue. Let's see, at 10 cents a day X 365 days a year X 11 years, your fine would be $396. The library realizes that it is unlikely to collect that much from you.

  3. If the fine is a large one or you had many books overdue, see if you can negotiate with the library staff. Let them know it would be a hardship for you and ask if the fine could be reduced or forgiven. Usually you have to talk to a supervisor to get this changed.

    Another option is to ask if you can work off the fine. Some libraries allow this, but many do not. The work arrangement might be to dust the shelves or polish the tables or some other low-skilled task. If you have some special skill, like being a PR person or can teach a computer class, then you might barter those skills to help the library in return for reducing the fine.

Fascinating Reports of Long Overdue Library Books Returned - Enjoy the videos

Sad Stories about Overdue Books

I asked my friends if they'd ever forgotten to return a library book. Wow, almost every single one had a sad story to tell. Here they are.

Denetra - I checked the book out in elementary school which was over 4 decades ago.

Nym - I got 2 books from the library, and the next month, I honestly forgot to take them back, but they didn't say a thing, and I knew they were entering a new system and were meaning to get rid of some of the older books, but I didn't pay for them either, and the next month I went back, and they still didn't say anything, so I forgot all about it, and now I have 2 books out for 26 years, not sure if they meant to give them away, or not (advice from the librarian: Sounds like your books got lost in the shuffle. If they haven't blocked you from borrowing books, then your record must be clear. If it is still worrying you 26 years later, just return the books and you will feel better about it.)

Molly - I lost it. I am scared. (advice from the librarian: Talk to the library and see what can be done and how much you need to pay. Maybe they will let you work off the fine.)

Serenia - I usually get overdue books when I don't take notice of the Best Bets sticker on the front cover. Those are only issued for 1 week, not 3 weeks. I just paid another fine today because a book I took out last week was a best bet book and I didn't get my 3 weeks to read it!!! I had to take it back UNREAD. I will have to get it out again when I have time to read it.

thomanna - I know I checked out a couple of books from my elementary school library and then we moved to another city. I found them when I was a senior in high school while cleaning the shed. Don't know what's happened to them since.

Cocoa - My daughter had dropped a library book in the farthest reaches beside the bed and the wall. I didn't even know we still had it until I received the late notice.

Foxy - I just can't get back to the library on time. I figure what the heck. My overdue fees help buy new books. I am habitually late. I need a library like Netflicks, no late fees and no new checkouts till I return it.

Mark - I have borrowed a book from the public library, and I have left it in my car and forgotten all about it after 4 months. I was charged $38 for late return.

Nonna - Well, we're traveling in Brazil right now and our Portuguese still isn't all that great. The library actually closed the day before we went to return the books and then moved and just recently re-opened. The books were returned yesterday. Whew! About 8 weeks total.

Pamela - A college course book got mixed up with some of my own books and, after finishing up and moving away I found it. Terrified of the overdue fee, I buried my head in the sand and forgot about it until I received a fine of more than $600 - the college had my new address. I posted the book back to the college library with a crawly note and kept my fingers crossed. Thankfully, I heard no more about it......

Anna - Way back when in Elementary School, I would always seem to lose my books and not find it by the due date. Because there were no fees, I found myself keeping it for months and months. One time, I didn't return the book until two grades later! Nowadays I'm more responsible with my book borrowing (especially since those fines can stack up quite fast!).

Corrie - It was a textbook for a College Computer Class that I kept all semester. I saved about $130 dollars for the book with a small late return fee!

Heidi - In most cases, I've just been late by a day or two because life got in the way and I couldn't get to the library on time. I've always paid the fine right then though.

Marie - I once borrowed several books, then took one on a trip. I returned all the books on time -- or so I thought. The next time I got out my luggage to pack for another trip, there was that book. It was the only time I ever had one that was more than a few days late. I felt so guilty.

Chica - Back when I was little, I used to check out all kinds of library books with the best of intentions. But of course, you can't count on a middle schooler to remember where she puts all these books. They'd show up eventually - and the library staff was always happy to see them

Pam - As a kid, I once kept a library book way past the due date. Once I realized it was late and knew I didn't have the money to pay the fine, I was then afraid to tell my parents. A catch 22 situation because the longer I kept it out, the more money it cost. Yes, I finally told the folks and worked off the fine they paid by not getting an allowance for months.

Andy - My library books are usually overdue because we've misplaced them and I have to get the kids together to search for them before I can return it. Other times, I usually just forget until I am notified of my fines, or I can't make it to the library that day.

Sarah - I was young and foolish! On a side note, a library in Ontario, Canada, has decided that in order to compete with e-readers, it is letting people borrow hard books for as long as they want. I think that's totally misguided because books would go missing from the library for years. Why buy a book, when you can just borrow it forever?? Thanks for letting me relieve a little guilt. :)

Morrie - I have misplaced books before and had them for a few months before I found them, I guess that shows how much clutter I keep in my house, but the nice part is that the library was happy to have the book returned.

Delia - I have been guilty of this and feel compelled now to redeem myself! The fines must have now gone off the scales!!

Ellen - Once it was due to a blizzard. Other times it's just that I can't get to the library -- too much on my plate.

Missy - The last lot of books that I had overdue was back when I was pregnant. My excuse was that they were too heavy for me to carry on the bus - I kept renewing them online until I reached the online limit, and in the end had to get a friend to return them for me... didn't make them pay the fine though!

Kathryn - I was cleaning out the closet, and in the very back, I found a basket of library books my daughter had checked out when she was in kindergarten. I had completely forgotten we had them. By the time I found it, she was in middle school. Yikes!

 Here's a little humor on the situation with a shirt from Zazzle
Here's a little humor on the situation with a shirt from Zazzle | Source

© 2012 Virginia Allain


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