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Overdue library book returned to Vancouver branch nearly 70 years later


The phrase "better late than never" applies to library books too, it turns out.

Earlier this week, the Vancouver Public Library received such a book, which was finally returned to its Collingwood branch.

The book, titled Audel's Mechanical Drawing Guide, has been missing for almost seven decades. Descriptions of the book posted online suggests the hardcover edition was published back in 1947.

Several Audel's guides were published around that time, including books about welding, blueprint reading, oil burners, and refrigeration and air conditioning.

This guide, based on a foreword written by "The Publishers," said its purpose is to "aid the student in making the first advance towards a thorough and useful knowledge of drawing."

This particular copy was taken out in 1953, and due back at the branch on April 14 of that year.

And it did make its way back, but not until November 2021, at which point it was 68 years and seven months overdue.

With consultation from VPL's managers of circulation services and of collections and technical services, a library spokesperson answered some questions from CTV News about the surprising return.

She could not share much about the circumstances for privacy reasons, but the spokesperson said returns like this often come from a family member, rather than the person who first took out the book.

She said often they're found by someone cleaning out belongings of a loved one who has passed away. In other circumstances, long-overdue books are found while moving or rearranging furniture.

She shared an example posted on Twitter of a man who admitted this week to stealing a book he loved when he was a teenager.

Writing that it wasn't necessarily something he's proud of, Neil Bahadur posted: "For Martin Scorsese's birthday I might return the copy of Ian Christie's 'Scorsese on Scorsese' interview book that I stole from the Vancouver Public Library when I was 16 because I was obsessed with it and wanted it around me all the time."

He followed the message by advising those who saw the tweet never to steal from a library.

"Sometimes we get to find out, and sometimes we don't," the spokesperson said.

"But we are just happy to have the book returned and, when possible, to have the relationship with the patron."

She said the main concern for staff at Vancouver's libraries is that people who want access can have it, and that an overdue book doesn't keep them away.

The guidebook came with a warning that returning it late would result in a daily fine of two cents.

Things have changed since 1953. The library said typically now the overdue fine is 30 cents a day, up to a maximum of $12.

With this book, it would have been considered lost, so the patron would have had to pay the $12 charge, plus the cost of the book itself.

But in this case, the person who returned it probably wasn't charged.

"It's most likely that this item was no longer considered part of our collection once we made the shift to a computerized lending system, so we probably wouldn't have made the person pay anything anyway because it wasn't attached to an account," she said.

When asked in theory how much they'd be expected to pay, library staff said it wouldn't be as much as some might assume.

"If for some reason it was entered in our system at the time it was lost, it would be for whatever the amount was at the time; we don't go back and retroactively change amounts every time we make an adjustment to our fees."

The book appears to have cost the library $1 at the time it was purchased. This is unconfirmed but matches prices of other versions of Audel's guides, the spokesperson said.

"If you put it into a cost converter that is roughly $13 today."

A photo from the Vancouver Public Library shows a price guide for books similar to one returned 68 years overdue.

The book was returned in what the library described as "excellent condition."

It's hard to say what someone looking to read a copy would pay. Few sellers appear in an online search, but one copy for sale on Amazon is priced at just $8.59.

Another seller appeared to be looking for $17.08 for their version, and a copy being sold at auction doesn't appear to have drawn any bids. Top Stories

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