Book Returned To New York Public Library Almost 55 Years Overdue

It may disappoint fans of the TV program “Seinfeld,” but the New York Public Library doesn’t really have its own detectives who track down biblio-scofflaws with severely overdue books. If it did, it would have long ago tracked down the patron who checked out a copy of Fire of Francis Xavier in 1958 and didn’t return it until this week.

Today, many libraries send substantial missing or overdue book accounts off to a collection agency, which people find a lot more menacing than a humble letter on library stationery. NYPL does this now, in fact, but didn’t go back retroactively and try to track down people who checked out books during the Eisenhower administration.

The book showed up in the mail on Monday accompanied by a $100 check. The library won’t disclose who wrote the check, but did share a photo of the date due card: April 10, 1958.

Journalists love to calculate the estimated fine when a library book has been missing for decades, but the fee is usually capped at the replacement value of the book. (The “4.00” typed on the pocket in the photo was most likely the original purchase price of the book.) With that $100 check, the library system could buy two modern editions of The Fire of Francis Xavier, but now it would be more likely to go toward fun community programming, Internet-ready computers, or licensing fees for e-books.

What they wouldn’t do is hire any cops, because the New York Public library isn’t a government agency. It’s a not-for-profit corporation that receives some funding from the city government.

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