Librarians stunned as book is returned 73 years late accruing nearly £3,000 fine

A library book thought to be one of the most overdue in British history has been returned after more than 73 years.

An amnesty on late payment fees in Scotland may have prompted the unexpected return of the title, which had been due back on November 6, 1948.

The adventure novel Stately Timber by Rupert Hughes should have been handed back to what was then Dunfermline Public Libraries’ Central Library three years after the Second World War, but racked up nearly £3,000 worth of fees in the seven decades since.

It was withdrawn by a 20-year-old man, who either who forgot about it or chose not to return it, according to his daughter.

Now she has sent the book back by post from Cromarty with a touching letter explaining the mishap.

Donna Dewar, a cultural services assistant at what is now Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries explained: ‘I burst out laughing when I opened the parcel, I couldn’t believe it.

‘We had a book returned to our Rosyth branch after 14 years recently, which we thought was amazing enough, but this was way beyond anything we’ve heard of.


‘For a bit of fun we worked out how much could have been due in fees and it comes to a whopping £2,847.

‘It arrived with a lovely letter from the borrower’s daughter who was able to give us a bit of detail.’

The sender explained that her late father had lived in Thornton in 1948 but said she would never know know whether he had just been a 20-year-old with other things on his mind or whether he chose to keep the book.

She added: ‘I find it fascinating to see the dates of when this book was taken out, during the latter years of WW2 and that the war ended between stamps marked by librarians.

‘Life goes on around momentous historical events.’


The adventure story, set in Boston, USA, has advice on the inside page which reads: ‘This book may only be retained for 14 days’.

The Abbot Street library has had an amnesty on late fees throughout the pandemic to encourage members to return books, but were stunned that the move helped unearthed such an old title.

Christine McLean, OnFife’s head of cultural heritage and wellbeing, said: ‘We’re thrilled to have received it – especially as this week is Book Week Scotland when we’re doing so much to promote our libraries – and we look forward to finding a special place to display the book, and the story of its journey, in our Local Studies section at DCL&G.’

The Guinness World record for the most overdue library book is held by one returned to Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, England, that was borrowed in 1668 and given back 288 years later.

This summer, a book was returned 50 years late to another Scottish library with a £20 apology donation.

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