CHAMPAIGN – Sorting through book returns on Friday, a Champaign Public Library employee came across two bedraggled books, with crumbling spines and pages aged to a dirty yellow.
It became evident that the books were old – very old – and long predated any automatic computer systems. As close as anyone can estimate, the books were returned to the library roughly 90 years after they were checked out.
An anonymous note accompanying the package indicated the returner had found the books in boxes that had been packed 60 years ago. The box was among the finder's mother's belongings.
Never in Library Director Marsha Grove's seven years at the Champaign library have books this old – and this long overdue – been returned.
"I don't know who has the record for the most overdue return," but the Champaign library might be close after Friday's discovery, Grove said.
The cover of "United States History and Constitution" sports a solid blue cover, with the beveled print barely distinguishable from the void areas. And "Benefits Forgot: A Story of Lincoln and Mother Love" displays a gold screen-printed bust of Abraham Lincoln while illustrations inside resemble wood block carvings pressed against the pages.
The two were checked out during the 1920s, as close as Grove can tell.
A ledger inside the cover of one of the books indicated the return date was Oct. 16, though the stamp did not identify a year.
If they had been 90 years overdue, the two books – each at two cents per day, the charge in 1920 – accumulated about $1,300 in overdue fines.
That might explain why the note was anonymous.
"I mean, you wouldn't want to turn your parents in," Grove said.
But under today's policy, the library never charges more than half the retail value of the overdue books. Handwritten notes penciled inside one of the book's cover indicated the Champaign library purchased the book for 75 cents on Jan. 15, 1918.
And had this happened in the past few years, it likely never would have gotten this far.
"We do now send people to the collection agency," Grove said.
And no, the decrepit books will not be available for checkout. On Friday, they sat on Grove's desk, barely fit to be handled. Books like these wouldn't survive the stacks.
"They're falling apart on my table here," Grove said.
The library will do some research to see if they have any value as rare books. If not, they might end up on eBay.
"Interesting to get them back, though," Grove said.