Chicago Public Library's Amnesty Period Prompts Woman To Return Copy Of 'Dorian Gray' Overdue By 78 Years

Fear of the inevitably ginormous fine she’d face after hanging onto a Chicago Public Library copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde for 78 years too long kept one woman from bringing the overdue back to its proper place. But thanks to the library’s recent three-week amnesty period, the book has finally been returned.

To be fair, reports the Chicago Tribune, it wasn’t entirely the woman’s fault. It all started when her mom’s childhood friend checked out the copy of the 1911 edition in 1934 and never returned it. She even wrote her own name in the front of the book.

Somehow it ended up with her mother, and the daughter found it in her deceased mother’s belongings back in 1993. But since then, she’d been too scared of huge fines or even legal consequences for turning it in so late.

“When I heard about the amnesty, I thought, ‘This is it! This is my second chance,’” the woman said of the program, which ends on Sept. 7 and granted forgiveness of all overdue fines.

This isn’t any normal copy of the Wilde book — it was part of a 14-volume set of his writings printed in 1911, and only 480 copies of each set were ever printed. Back in 1917 when the CPL obtained its copy, the book was purchased for $27.50. That would be about $492.22 today.

If there’s ever a time to return a book 78 years late, it’s pretty wise to wait until a convenient amnesty period, eh? Especially since even an overdue Twilight DVD and book can get you put in the hoosegow these days.

The ballad of reading guilt [Chicago Tribune]

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  1. cityofcompton says:

    She looks like she’s 18, but the book looked like hell.

  2. eccsame says:

    And yet, the book had hardly aged a day.

  3. dorianh49 says:

    At least it was proper literature. This century, someone returns an overdue copy of Dorian Gray; next century, it’ll be someone who pirates a holographic version of 50 Shades Of Gray. De-evolution, idiocracy, etc.

  4. Not Given says:

    If she wasn’t the one who took out the book, how would it be her fine to pay?

  5. rookie says:

    this is a beautiful story…
    i go now, to weep…

  6. Sarek says:

    No, she was afraid of what she’d look like after returning the book.

  7. Portlandia says:

    “she’d been too scared of huge fines or even legal consequences for turning it in so late.”

    Really, were you afraid a librarian might tackle you and force you to pay for 70 years of late fees?

    Are people this stupid? How about, dropping it in a night depository and walking away.

    You don’t think after 60-70 years they might, you know, write it off?

    • Kaonashi says:

      Assuming a $0.10/day fee that would be just over 2500 dollars. I doubt they’d try to collect but that would scare me if I was an older person and that big of a fine could conceivably be a big burden on me.

      • Billy C says:

        My local library charges $0.25/day, but that also applies to DVDs. My old library was something like $0.10/day for books, and a buck or two per day for discs.

  8. Blueskylaw says:

    I doubt that the library even had updated records from that far back. Even if they did, try tracking someone 78 years later to find out if they’re still alive let alone where they might be living now.

    • RandomHookup says:

      The phone number on file was “7′.

      • MarkFL says:

        Don’t laugh…there was a cousin in my family who had a radio repair business in the early days of radio. This was in the days before direct calling — you would call the operator and tell her the exchange (what we now call a prefix, except it was name, not a number, for example, “Elmwood” or “Klondike”) and the number. According to my mom, Benny’s number was 8.

        Eventually it became 08, then 008, etc. By the time I was old enough to use a phone, it was EL2-0008. And Benny was fixing televisions, too.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        An elderly lady friend of mine has a library card number of 13 (it’s a very small town).

        • BorkBorkBork says:

          When I was growing up (not too long ago, I’m 25), our small town librarian knew everybody’s library card number by memory. My number was six hundred thirty something..I don’t even know because I never brought it.

          She was 90-something years old at the time. Gosh I miss small New England towns.

  9. elangomatt says:

    This woman actually had a valid concern with getting fines from the city if she had returned it without the amnesty. For debts you owe, the city (and any other city/town/college etc in the state of Illinois) can (and will) actually submit your information to the state government. If you are planning to get a tax return back from the state, they will take that money and give it to the city claiming a debt against you. Of course, the state charges a fee to you for this service. I don’t know if they are doing this for library fines, but I know for a fact that Chicago got millions of dollars from this program in 2012 so far. This is all based on a new law in Illinois that went into effect January 1st, 2012.

    • Kitamura says:

      But it was checked out by the friend of her mother, so even if they tried to backtrack it they would get some totally different person wouldn’t they?

      As far as I can tell, there’s no direct paper trail linking the person who ended up with the book to the person who actually checked out the book.

  10. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I checked a book out in college and lost it. Recently I called them and asked if they would like me to get another copy, as I was scared by a recent library police story. They said “You’re not even in our system anymore. Don’t worry about it.”

    I would have replaced it! Really! I’m tempted to do it anyway, still, if I could find a hardback.

  11. evilpete says:

    I recently returned a VHS tape 15 years late to a video rental store , right as it was going out of business..

    I was clearing out some boxes in storage and found the tape ( it was the movie “Tape Heads” )

  12. MarkFL says:

    Since nobody else has done the math…

    If we figure 5¢ per day, it comes to $1424.45, if it were returned on the anniversary of the first day overdue. Since that’s probably less then the current fine, consider that a minimum. Cheaper to buy a new copy, unlike replacing a stolen copy of “Rochelle, Rochelle” from the video store.

    However, the book might be considered a collector’s item. It would be interesting to have it appraised. If it were sold on eBay, especially considering that it has been in the news, the library might raise enough to buy a whole slew of new books.

  13. jaya9581 says:

    It’s sad that this is the world we live in now, where someone has to be scared of doing the right thing (when they weren’t even in the wrong personally) because of a monetary or legal threat.

  14. Taed says:

    I once found that one of my co-workers had a library book on computers that he took out and didn’t return decades ago. So, I penned the following missive to him.

    Dear Mr Disbrow,

    The book you referenced, Basics of Digital Computers, was indeed checked out in your name in June of 1973, and has been on an overdue list since July 16, 1973. Normally, once the ammount of fines levied against the cardholder exceed the replacement value of the overdue item, the accumulation of fines is curtailed and the item is replaced. In your case however, the book is extremely rare (the hardcover copy in your posession is volume 2 of a 32-volume set, which is sold as a set – the value of the set was around $1800.00 in 1973), and was replaced in 1981 with funds from a grant from the University of Southern California. That copy is in our “Heritage Archives”, available for viewing only upon appointment.

    I regret to inform you that your debt in fines and penalties is now in the hands of our attorneys office (LAPL Controller General), and the LA District Attorney. I am not at liberty to divulge the ammount. You should receive call soon from their office.

    Thank you for using the Los Angeles Public Library.

    Roger Limsdobt, PhD
    Director
    Office of Member Services
    Losa Angeles Public Library

    • MarkFL says:

      And you’re not going to tell us the rest of the story?

      • George4478 says:

        That was the end. He knew about the book, wrote the letter, saved it as a Word document (disbrow-book.docx), and went on about his day.

        Pity he didn’t send it to the guy; maybe play some kind of prank with it. If he had I’m sure he would have mentioned it. :-)