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Sometimes we all just need a bit more time with a good book.

One Minnesota resident, it seems, took that time – and then some.

Now, over a century later, her child has returned it to the Saint Paul Public Library through another library system in the state, the city library director, Maureen Hartman, said on Monday.

Someone in Hennepin County, Minnesota, found a book that was over 100 years late to the library -- where officials confirmed it was theirs.
Someone in Hennepin County, Minnesota, found a book that was over 100 years late to the library — where officials confirmed it was theirs. (From Saint Paul Public Library/X)

The 1902 edition of “Famous Composers vol. 2” by Nathan Haskell Dole was found by a patron in Hennepin County sorting through their mother’s belongings, the library wrote on X.

No other information on the book’s return were immediately available, though the library welcomes the chance to chat with whoever brought it back, Hartman said.

The title itself explores the lives and works of some prominent composers from the Baroque period to the Romantic era, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, a modern synopsis shows.

This particular copy lived only a short time on the Saint Paul library’s shelves, according to a web librarian who pieced together some of its journey through dated stamps and the pocket card, the library said.

It was checked out several times, according to the check-out slip in the back of the book – most likely last in 1919.

And it hadn’t been returned since.

The grossly overdue book caught the attention of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who joked online about the fine more than 100 years’ delay might accrue – or lack thereof, rather, since the library, like many across the country, stopped charging late fees in 2019, he said.

A century before that, the going rate for a late book would have been a penny a day, Carter said, meaning today, the Dole hardback would have incurred a fine of about US$380 (A$580).

Backtracking through time

Two check-out stamps – from June 4, 1914, and January 17, 1916 – reveal the tome’s journey, indicating it may have been entered in the library’s catalog twice, the Saint Paul Public Library said.

The book “was added first in 1914 when the city’s library was housed in Old Market Hall and the Central Library was still being built,” it said. Old Market Hall caught fire in 1915, however, with essentially the whole library – 160,000 volumes – burned.

Some 34,000 titles, presumably in the hands of patrons at the time, escaped the flames, Hartman said.

"Famous Composers vol. 2" likely survived a fire that destroyed Saint Paul's library because it was on loan at the time.
“Famous Composers vol. 2” likely survived a fire that destroyed Saint Paul’s library because it was on loan at the time. (From Saint Paul Public Library/X)

Dole’s text, it added, was likely one of the few books to survive.

This particular “Famous Composers vol. 2” most likely was added back into the library’s collection in 1916, the Saint Paul Public Library’s librarian deduced, ahead of the 1917 opening of the Central Library building.

Still, the hardcover book remains intact, held together by what appears to be its original binding, with weathered pages marked by library stamps, scattered pencil writings and a few stains, photos from the library show.

A math equation inked on the pocket card still solves this problem: 1928 minus 1791, the library pointed out. Perhaps the patron was trying to work out how old the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer would have been if he’d lived to see the later year, staff hypothesised.

Due to its fragile condition, the library doesn’t think the book should go back into circulation, Hartman said. Instead, it could end up displayed under glass in the Saint Paul Collection, which documents parts of the city’s history.

“This has been such a wonderful opportunity to talk about this specific book, Hartman said, “but also just about libraries and the value of libraries in general.

“This has proven again to us that libraries are as interesting and beloved now just as much as they were 100 years ago.”

Meanwhile, the answer to that math equation – as well as why the book remained checked out for over 100 years – may be among those that simply can’t be found in the library, its staff acknowledged:

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