Rare Book Returned to Library 78 Years Late

By Suzan Clarke

Sep 13, 2012 9:10am

A Chicago Public Library amnesty  program that allowed members to return overdue items without having to pay any late fees brought in more than 100,000 books, DVDs and other materials  including a rare, limited edition novel that was turned in 78 years late.

The rare edition of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” had been checked out in 1934. According to Reuters news agency, Harlean Hoffman Vision found the book in her late mother’s possessions and wanted to bring it back, but she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t go to jail for having had it so long.

“She kept saying, ‘You’re not going to arrest me?’ and we said, ‘No, we’re so happy you brought it back,’” Ruth Lednicer, the library’s marketing director, said.

The library’s fine amnesty – dubbed “Once in a Blue Moon Amnesty” – began on Aug. 20 and ended Sept. 7. The value of the 101,301 items returned was estimated at $2 million. Several of the recovered items were checked out in the 1970s and 1980s, the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported.

The library caps fines on each late item at $10, so the total fines waived during the amnesty reportedly was $641,820.

Had fines not been capped, the late fees on the Wilde novel would have run more than $6,000, Reuters reported.

The last fine amnesty conducted by the library took place in 1992. During that program,  the library eliminated all fines on juvenile cards once the overdue items were returned.

There was also a one-week fine amnesty in 1985 that extended to all library patrons. A library news release said 77,000 books worth about $1.5 million were returned.

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