Better Late Than Never

September 13, 2018

About ten years ago I was working as a New York City librarian, doing my due diligence in a massive system. My first job was in the Jefferson Market branch, a gorgeous structure that began its days as a women’s courthouse (Mae West was tried there, amongst many others). When it was turned into a library in the 1960s, NYPL decided to decommission a smaller branch nearby called the Jackson Square location. Over the years the old branch transferred hands amongst various louche Greenwich Village characters, until it finally fell into the possession of Tom Fontana. Tom’s the creator of such television programs as St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Oz, amongst other things. When Tom moved in, he decided to remove all the gross pink plastic the previous owners had applied and return the home to its former glory. It took a while, but by the time I saw it, it looked very much like a library branch that doubled as someone’s home.

Now when you live in an old library branch, from time to time you get some interesting mail. So it was that Tom received not one but TWO books, returned to the Jackson Square branch. This, more than 40 years after the place shut down. The first book’s package he opened in a grand ceremony at the dawn of the new millennium. I don’t know when he opened the second.

I remembered all this not long ago when here at the Evanston Public Library we received our own mysterious return. To all outward appearances James A. Michener’s Sports in America is in excellent condition. The pages are not yellowed in the least, and while there is a small hole in the plastic on the dust jacket, it’s not particularly noticeable. What is noticeable, however, is the note inside:

It reads, “Due Date: November 25, 1977. Please keep THIS slip in THIS book Pocket. Since this slip will be processed by a computer, a charge must be made if it is not returned with this book.” It goes on to report the fines and, at the very bottom, it reads “COMPUTO-CHEK, Kaiser Circulation Systems – Detroit.”

This book was returned in one of our bins recently. No note. No explanation. And since this was at the very dawn of using computers in libraries, there isn’t a barcode on it either.

A hat tip then to faithful patrons that return their books, no matter how late. This book now resides in a place of honor with some other fine and rare oddities we’ve collected. One of these days, I’m just going to have to make a display of them.

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