Book returned to Burk's Falls library 50 years later

A former Burk's Falls resident, who now lives in Ottawa, has returned a book he borrowed from the local library 50 years ago.

The library can't identify the man because of its privacy policy.

However Library Coordinator Josie Woodman says the former resident made a $50 donation to the library as partial compensation for the late return.

It was Woodman who took the phone call from the man around mid-July to say he had an overdue book.

“When he told me it was a little late I said no problem thinking it wasn't that late,” Woodman told the Nugget in a phone interview. “But then he added it was many decades late and asked if the library could still take it back because he was soon going to be in the area”.

Woodman immediately said yes and began wondering what condition the book was in once it was back in the hands of the library.

“Was it going to be half falling apart,” Woodman thought, adding she was also curious about the subject matter of the book.

The book was 'The Works of Tennyson' and was a collection of Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson's poems, monologues and songs.

When the individual arrived with the book later in the summer Woodman said he very carefully handed it over to her.

“It was in really good condition for its age,” Woodman said. “He took really good care of it”.

She said except for the first couple of pages which are falling apart, all the pages are there although they are darker.

“This is actually easy to repair but we may keep it the way it is to maintain that historical element,” she said.

The man told Woodman he thinks he borrowed the book when he was about 10 years old but then it got mixed up with his own book collection and forgot about it.

This would be when the library was located upstairs at the former fire hall and was known as the Burk's Falls Public Library. It's now called the Burk's Falls, Armour and Ryerson Union Public Library.

It's not known when the man rediscovered the book, but he told Woodman when he saw it, he planned to return it on his next visit to Burk's Falls.

The top of the spine of the green coloured book is partially frayed but Woodman believes it was like that when the former resident first checked it out. Woodman believes this because although the book contains no publication date, it appears to have been printed sometime during the 1950s.

Woodman says the book has some unique features. Its cover has no printed words and the book contains an insert page that details the Rules of the Burk's Falls Public Library.

Woodman said the library rules have changed over the decades and the insert provided a glimpse to the library's procedures in the past. For example, people could only borrow one book at a time for two weeks and renew it as long as no one else requested it in the meantime.

The fine for late books was two cents a day. The library has replaced the fine for overdue books with a guilt jar. But based on the old formula and estimating the book was 50 years overdue, the late penalty would be in the $365 range if it was applicable today.

Another rule stated people were limited to borrowing up to six books per month.

Also any resident of Burk's Falls could borrow a book as well as boarders and lodgers. But there was a catch. According to the rules, a resident had to vouch for the lodger or boarder and it's the resident who was responsible for the book if it wasn't returned.

Woodman has made a copy of the insert and laminated it along with a picture of the book indicating it was returned 50 years after first being checked out from the library. Woodman says because of its fragility plus the fact it is no longer catalogued in the system, the book will not be loaned out anymore.

Rather it is on public display along with the laminated sign as part of the library's memorabilia historical collection.

Woodman posted images of the book and the laminated sign online and got a lot of local engagement especially from the local historical and agricultural societies. Woodman noted that one thing that's missing from the book is the stamp card envelope usually found on the back cover of a library book indicating when it was due back. She adds it appears the book once had two such envelopes but they were ripped out.

Having the original stamp cards would have given a clear record of how often the book was borrowed prior to the 1970s when the former resident checked it out. Woodman reasoned that given the wear and tear on the book, it was frequently borrowed.

Since getting the book back, Woodman has carefully flipped the pages over and has discovered many handwritten notes on a number pages plus checkmarks on some of the poems.

One page also has the year '2004' written on it. All this suggests to Woodman that perhaps over the years the original borrower or someone else read Tennyson's works in the book several times. Woodman said it's common for books to be returned late occasionally but laughingly added 'hands down, absolutely, this is the longest a book has ever taken to come back to us”.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget