You’re overdue for some fun at your local library

Published 3:58 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

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Have you ever borrowed something and then, perhaps, forgot to return it? Or maybe you were on the other end of the situation, where you lent something out and the item never made its way back to you?

It’s not an unusual occurrence. Sometimes, people forget things or misplace them. Stuff gets overlooked or stashed away somewhere else for a while.

I recently read an article from the Associated Press about an overdue library book which was returned a whopping 119 years late! But better late than never, right?

According to the article, someone checked out James Clark Maxwell’s “An Elementary Treatise on Electricity” from the New Bedford Free Public Library on Valentine’s Day, 1904. For some reason, whoever checked out the book from the library in Massachusetts never brought it back.

Perhaps, the borrower simply forgot and decided they were too ashamed to bring it back later. Or maybe it got mixed up in the shuffle of moving, and future generations never realized it was a library book. (I can only assume that not many people outside of electricians were interested in reading the contents of the book, and maybe never cracked open the spine to check.)

But the overdue book was finally rediscovered recently by the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries while sorting through a donation pile. The curator noticed the label for the Massachusetts library, and sent it back to where it belonged.

It’s only just 119 years too late!

The director of the New Bedford Public Library said the book was in good condition, and that most of the previous long-overdue books had only been gone for 10 to 15 years.

As noted by the article, when the book was first checked out, there had only been one modern World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was working towards winning a second election for president, and the Wright Brothers had conducted their first successful airplane flight just the year before.

Oh how things have changed since 1904!

If you’re wondering about library late fees, the New Bedford library charges five cents a day for being past due with the fee maxing out at a mere $2. That’s not bad, considering that the fee would be over $2,100 by now otherwise.

Seeing a book being returned (no matter how late) was a nice story to read about, and it got me thinking about how wonderful libraries are in general.

A library is a place of possibility. You can browse the shelves and discover so many different stories bound within the books you pick out. Stories that take you all around the world or stories that take you to the limits of your imagination. Stories for the youngest of readers learning their ABCs or stories for the seasoned readers looking for something new to ponder.

And all of those stories are freely accessible with a simple library card.

But libraries are great not only because of the books they offer, but the other services they provide too.

Want to check out an interesting movie or audiobook or CD? They’ve got collections for those too. (Blockbuster Video may not be around anymore, but who needs it when you can do the same thing at your nearest library?)

Need to do something on a computer but are having tech or internet access problems? Visit the library’s computer lab to take care of it instead. You can even ask the staff for assistance if you still have issues.

Want to enjoy a variety of special events for all age groups all throughout the year? That’s right, the library has you covered there too! You can attend book signings, movie screenings, educational activities, informational sessions, gaming events, and much more at your local library.

I’ve attended different events at our local libraries over the past few years to write articles for this newspaper. Personally, I enjoyed the time the Hertford County Public Library in Winton hosted members of the NC Symphony for an informative and interactive event about music. And I had a lot of fun attending the “living wax museum” at the Northampton Memorial Library in Jackson last year, which gave young people a chance to learn and share more about Black history.

Those are only two examples of the fun things which take place at our local libraries! (You may catch more of those kinds of events by checking the Community Calendar listing on Page 2A of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald or the event listings on the side bar of the Gates County Index’s front page. And, of course, by contacting the library directly.)

If you’re new to the area, our local public library system is the Albemarle Regional Library (ARL). It’s a seven-branch system located throughout our four-county area which includes Bertie County Public Library (Windsor), Sallie Harrell Jenkins Memorial Library (Aulander), Gates County Public Library (Gatesville), Hertford County Public Library (Winton), Ahoskie Public Library, Elizabeth Sewell Parker Memorial Library (Murfreesboro), and Northampton Memorial Library (Jackson).

ARL got its start in 1948 by linking together the public libraries in Bertie, Gates, and Hertford counties, and then added Northampton County in 1968.

In addition to the ARL libraries, our local area also has the library at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, which is also open to visitors. People wishing to view archived editions of the News Herald can visit Chowan’s library to do so.

And the town of Garysburg hosts their own independent Volunteer Public Library thanks to efforts from local citizens. They opened in 2012 in the library space of the former Garysburg Elementary School building.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cultivator Bookmobile, a nonprofit in Murfreesboro (and soon with a location in Ahoskie as well). Though not a library itself, the organization does book giveaways and hosts various events throughout the year.

It’s always great to encourage reading and provide spaces for the community to come together. And a library does just that. We are lucky to have these resources right here where we live.

Just don’t wait more than a century to return any books you check out!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.