Library Book Returned 119 Years Later

A Massachusetts library book checked out in 1904 has finally been returned - in good condition -119 years later. 

A Massachusetts library book checked out in 1904 has finally been returned – in good condition -119 years later. 

Overdue Book Finds It’s Way Back To Original Library

Back on Feb. 14, 1904, someone curious about the emerging possibilities of a key force of nature checked out James Clerk Maxwell’s book, “An Elementary Treatise on Electricity,” from the New Bedford Free Public Library in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 

It would take 119 years and the sharp eyes of a librarian in West Virginia before the scientific text finally found its way back to the Massachusetts library.

Stewart Plein, the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries, plucked the centuries-old science book from the charity bin and noticed it had last been stamped “Withdrawn” in February 1904, indicating that it was incredibly overdue.

Plein found the treatise and noticed it had been part of the collection at the New Bedford library and, critically, had not been stamped “Withdrawn,” indicating that while extremely overdue, the book had not been discarded.

Overdue Electricity Book Was Returned To The Library

Plein contacted Jodi Goodman, the special collections librarian in New Bedford, to alert her to the find and coordinate its long-awaited return to the Massachusetts library.

“This came back in extremely good condition,” New Bedford Public Library Director Olivia Melo said.

“Someone obviously kept this on a nice bookshelf because it was in such good shape and probably got passed down in the family.”

“The value of the printed book is it’s not digital, it’s not going to disappear. Just holding it, you get the sense of someone having this book 120 years ago and reading it, and here it is in my hands,” she said. “It is still going to be here a hundred years from now. The printed book is always going to be valuable.”

The library charges 5 cents per day for late books, making the total late fee over $2,100, the AP reported. Luckily, the library’s maximum late fee is $2. 

Historic Book Published in 1881

The library occasionally receives books as much as 10 or 15 years overdue, but nothing anywhere close to a century or more, a librarian stated.

The treatise was published at a time when the world was still growing to understand the possibilities of electricity. In 1880, Thomas Edison received a historic patent embodying the principles of his incandescent lamp.

The century-old book was first published in 1881. A year earlier, Thomas Edison received the patent for the key concepts of the revolutionary incandescent lamp.

When the book was last in New Bedford, the nation was preparing for its second modern World Series, incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was on track to win another term, Wilbur and Orville Wright had conducted their first airplane flight just a year before and New York City was celebrating its first subway line.

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