BC man returns book to UK library – more than 48 years overdue

What’s the last thing you ever returned an overdue library book?

For a BC man it took 48 years and 107 days.

Staff at the Tooting Library in London, UK, were shocked when they received a book on Monday that appeared to have been last checked out on February 19, 1974.

The book, A Confederate general from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan, came in the mail from Port Moody, BC

“We received a mysterious package in the post … it said it had come back from Port Moody but there was no further information, there was no note,” said Christopher Arnsby, operations manager at Wandsworth Libraries.

The library staff decided to post on Twitter to see if anyone could tell them where it came from.

Because the library did not have a computer system until the late 1980s, Arnsby said they had no records from before that time and were unaware that the book was missing.

He said he thinks this may be her longest overdue book to be returned.

“As far as I know, this is the current record holder,” he told CBC.

Christopher Arnsby, operations manager at Wandsworth Libraries in London, pictured on Zoom with a copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan. (Michelle Gomez/CBC News)

He said the fine for the overdue book would be around £6,000 (around $9,440 at the time of publication) if the library didn’t cap fees at £8.50 (around $13). But Arnsby said they are waiving the fine in this case.

“It seemed a bit unreasonable to ask for a fine considering he went to all the trouble to ship it back from Canada.”

When asked what he would like to say to the sender, Arnsby replied:

“Thank you for returning the book. They’ve kept it for so long, I hope they’ve read it more than once and I hope they’ve enjoyed it.”

secret revealed

The man who returned the book was Tony Spence, a former BC Provincial Court judge who resides in Belcarra, which borders Port Moody to the northwest. A BBC reporter tracked him down through a Facebook group in Port Moody.

“We did a thorough purge, sort of like Marie Kondo,” Spence told CBC.

He said he found a box full of magazines from her time in London in the corner of her crawl space – along with a very overdue library book.

The book was last checked out on February 19, 1974 and the Tooting Library in London received the book back in the mail on Monday. Christopher Arnsby said they waived the overdue fines on the book. (Wandsworth Libraries)

Spence said he has no recollection of checking out or reading the book, although he does remember reading another book by the same author. Trout fishing in America.

“He was a cult figure back then, pretty well known,” Spence said.

Spence planned to include a note in the package when he mailed it in April. But when he got to the post office, he found he’d forgotten to write it and couldn’t bother, he said.

“I wanted to apologize to all the people who’ve gotten a handle on it over the last 50 years.”

Tony Spence, a retired BC provincial court judge, says he doesn’t recall checking out or reading the book, which he returned more than 48 years after its due date. (Submitted by Tony Spence)

Spence said he wanted to give other people a chance to read it. He hopes the library will display it so people can rediscover the author.

Arnsby said given the interest in the book’s journey, the library will initially put the book in a display case along with related news clippings.

He said it was returned in really good condition and they could put it back on the shelves right after the exhibition.

“I would certainly encourage other people to check their shelves and see if there’s anything lurking there… take them back to the Tooting Library and borrow more books, but try to get them back within limits,” Arnsby said .

Spence said he was glad the book arrived safely and could be enjoyed by others.

“I hope they would have a little laugh and I think they did because they decided to waive the late fines.”

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