100 years overdue, book finally returned to St. Paul Public Library

Photos of an old book-1
A book checked out from St. Paul Public Library was returned roughly 100 years later.
Courtesy photo

It must have been a very good read.

“Famous Composers” by Nathan Haskell Dole, the 1902 edition, explores the lives of 33 composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. It was last checked out of the St. Paul Public Library in 1919, but it was never returned, lost to the ages — until this week.

A Hennepin County resident found the book while sorting through their mother’s belongings. Library officials confirmed it was their book. There are two stamps on the back page, one reads 1914 and the other, 1916. The two dates mean the book was entered in the Library’s catalog twice. 

First, in 1914 when the city’s library was in Market Hall and Central Library was still being built. In 1915, Market Hall burned down. The book was likely added back to the collection in 1916 before the 1917 opening of the Central Library. 

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The check-out slip on the back of the book concludes that it was last checked out in 1919. 

John Larson, the St. Paul Public Library’s digital library coordinator, said in his 25 years working for the library it was the oldest book he ever saw returned. 

“There’s been a time or two when something has come back and maybe it has been checked out for 20 or 30 years, but nothing where it looks like it has been out for some 100 years. Maybe once every five or 10 years we will see something that is incredibly overdue,” he said.

Photos of an old book-2
“Famous Composers” by Nathan Haskell Dole, the 1902 edition, explores the lives of 33 composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.
Courtesy photo

The St. Paul library system did away with late fees in 2019. At the time, it had $2.5 million in uncollected debt that when eliminated unblocked 42,000 library cards, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

During the time period the book was checked out, Larson believes a late fee would have been a penny a day. According to his math, that would amount to a $36,000 fine. 

The future of the book is unsure. Larson doubts it will go back into circulation because of its delicate condition, but believes the library will hang onto it. 

“It has reached a point where it’s not just an old book, it’s an artifact. It has a little bit of history to it,” he said. 

And for those who may find overdue books from five, 10, or 20 years ago, Larson encourages Minnesotans to bring them back. All is forgiven.