Never too late: Hamilton library books returned 43 years overdue

Hamilton librarians found quite the surprise in the return bin last week.

Somebody anonymously dropped off four books to the Hamilton Public Library — 43 years overdue.

The books, all Shakespeare-related, were originally due back in January 1976, according to stamps on cards at the back.

“I wasn’t even alive in 1976,” said Chris Walsh, community librarian at the Terryberry Branch. 

Staff discovered the books last Thursday morning, after someone put them in the return bin overnight.

These four books were returned last week at the Terryberry branch of the Hamilton Public Library. They were originally due back in 1976. (Hamilton Public Library)

Walsh has seen people bring back books after a couple of years — but nothing “anywhere near” this overdue.

Other long-time Hamilton librarians agree, said communications manager Shelley McKay: 43 years is an unofficial local record. 

The library has no idea who checked the books out four decades ago, in late 1975. Back then, librarians would stamp cards at the back with due dates and recorded names on now-destroyed microfilm.

“It’s certainly very cool,” said Walsh, who started at the library in 2013. 

Long lost Shakespeare assignment?

The books are all related to William Shakespeare’s life and work, including a biography and collection of critical essays. They were checked out from the library’s Kenilworth branch.

“Obviously someone was doing a Shakespearean paper a long time ago,” laughed McKay. She said staff were “shocked” to see them returned.

The books are still in good shape, she said, so they likely ended up on a bookshelf somewhere.

“Hopefully the books came in so handy that they decided to hang over them,” said Walsh. “Or perhaps they got misplaced and discovered years later.”

So what are the late fines?

In 1976, the late fees were five cents a day for adult books and a penny a day for kids’ books, said McKay.

That means the book-borrower would now owe about $3,175 in fines, based on calculations by CBC News.

But there’s no need to worry about late fines — the library is just happy to have the books back. (Plus, the library now clears fines after four years, McKay said).

The original due dates were stamped on cards at the back of the books. Nowadays, the library records everything electronically. (Hamilton Public Library)

Who brought them back?

Walsh said he’s interested in learning more about the circumstances around the long-lost titles.

He wonders what prompted someone to bring the books back — or how they were used for the last four decades.

McKay said they’re seeing more books getting returned as the population ages; people are cleaning out their relatives’ homes or finding old books while downsizing.

The books may go to the library’s Local History and Archives department, McKay said, which is in the central branch downtown.

Encouraging people to bring books back

A lot has changed at the library since the books were checked out in 1976. Now books are scanned into a system and information is logged digitally. People get email reminders and calls when a book is due, she said.

McKay noted that there are still three library staff members who started working in the 70s. 

Walsh, who describes himself as a “bit of a book nerd,” was interested in looking at the older books, which were removed from circulation long ago. 

Librarian Chris Walsh said he’s never seen anything “near” this overdue. He’s interested in learning more about the story behind the books. (Hamilton Public Library)

He encourages anyone who’s worried about overdue fines or lost items to talk to the library, free of fear.

“If there are people who have long overdue library books…we’d love to see them back at the library,” he said.

“Not just the books but also the customers.” 

The returned book titles are:

  • Shakespeare 1564-1964 : A Collection of Modern Essays by Various Hands, edited by Edward A. Bloom; 
  • William Shakespeare : A Biography by A.L. Rowse
  • Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by Leonard F. Dean
  • Character and Motive in Shakespeare by J.I.M. Stewart

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