BC man returns book to UK library – over 48 years late

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When was the last time you returned a library book late?

For a man from British Columbia, it took 48 years and 107 days.

Staff at the Tooting Library in London, UK, were shocked when they received a book on Monday that appeared to have been last accessed on February 19, 1974.

The book, A Confederate general from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan, mailed in from Port Moody, BC

“We received a mysterious package in the mail…it said he had returned from Port Moody but there was no other information, there was no note,” said Christopher Arnsby, director of operations for the Wandsworth Libraries.

Library staff decided to post on Twitter to see if anyone could tell them where it came from.

Since the library did not have a computer system until the late 1980s, Arnsby said they had no records from before that time and were unaware that the book was missing.

He said he thought it might be their longest-awaited book.

“As far as I know, he’s the current record holder,” he told CBC.

Christopher Arnsby, director of operations at Wandsworth Libraries in London, pictured on Zoom holding a copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan. (Michelle Gomez/CBC News)

He said the fine for the late book would be around £6,000 (about $9,440 at the time of publication) if the library did not cap charges at £8.50 (about $13). But Arnsby said they are waiving the fine for the case.

“It seemed a little unreasonable to fine him given that he had gone to the trouble of kicking him out of Canada.”

When asked what he would like to tell the sender, Arnsby replied:

“Thank you so much for returning the book. They kept it for so long, I hope they read it more than once and I hope they enjoyed it.”

Mystery solved

The man who returned the book was Tony Spence, a former BC provincial court judge who resides in Belcarra, which borders Port Moody to the northwest. A BBC reporter tracked him down through a Port Moody Facebook group.

“We were doing a deep purge, sort of a Marie Kondo-type thing,” Spence told CBC.

He said he found a box in the corner of their crawl space which was full of magazines from the time they lived in London – as well as a very late library book.

The book was last viewed on February 19, 1974, and Tooting Library in London received the book in the post on Monday. Christopher Arnsby said he waived outstanding fines for the book. (Wandsworth Libraries)

Spence said he does not recall checking or reading the book, although he does recall reading a different book by the same author, Trout fishing in America.

“He was a cult figure at the time, quite well-known,” Spence said.

Spence intended to include a note in the package when he posted it in April. But when he got to the post office, he found he had forgotten to write it down and couldn’t be bothered, he said.

“I was going to apologize to all those people who held him down for the past 50 years.”

Tony Spence, a retired BC Provincial Court judge, says he doesn’t recall checking or reading the book he returned more than 48 years after its due date. (Submitted by Tony Spence)

Spence said he wanted to give other people a chance to read it. He hopes the library will display it so people can rediscover the author.

Arnsby said that given the interest in the book’s journey, the library will place the book in a display case with related clippings for the time being.

He said it had been returned in very good condition and that they could put it back directly on the shelves after the exhibition.

“I would definitely encourage other people to check their shelves and see if there’s anything lurking there…take them back to Tooting Library and borrow other books, but try to get them in the limit,” Arnsby said.

Spence said he was glad the book arrived safely and could be enjoyed by others.

“I hope they’ll laugh it off a bit, and I think they did because they decided to waive the late fines.”

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