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Overdue library book is returned after 44 years, shocking staff: 'It still has that little yellow card inside'

Book that was checked out from Deschutes Public Library in 1979 with handwritten note
An overdue library book, checked out in 1979, was finally returned with a handwritten note from its sender and a $20 donation to the Deschutes Public Library. (Photo: Deschutes Public Library)

It was a typical work day in early January when Tina Walker Davis, communications supervisor at Deschutes Public Library, was informed by colleagues that a curious package had arrived from the Seattle, Washington area.

Inside, Davis tells Yahoo Life, was an overdue library book — The Hockey Trick by Scott Corbett, about rival neighborhood hockey teams — that had originally been checked out of the Central Oregon-based library in the spring of 1979, along with a handwritten note and a $20 donation from its sender.

“To whom it may concern,” the note read. “Many apologies. This book was probably due in the late 1970s. Please accept this token of apology. P.S. We might’ve already paid for the book, but put this check to good use.”

For Davis and her colleagues, the book is a "time capsule" offering a glimpse into an age before the internet and social media.

“Have you ever been in a used book store? You know that smell?” Davis asks. “The book had that wonderful, musky, warm used book smell. It probably had been on somebody’s shelf for a long time. And to open it, it’s still in pretty great shape.”

Other details add to its old charm, such as the $4.95 price tag (a steal compared to today's hardcover book prices) and an inside pocket with a “little yellow card” librarians used back in the day for stamping return dates, before computers and automation did the job for them.

“It still has that little yellow card inside,” Davis notes. “I'm old enough to remember when I would go to the library and you would check out a book and they would put the card back in the pocket telling you when you needed to bring it back.”

“The yellow card says, ‘Please do not remove any cards from the book pocket. Thank you.’ And they did not,” she adds of the sender, whose name she didn't reveal citing confidentiality concerns. “The book came back with everything in the pocket.”

A photo of a book from the Deschutes Public Library, which was taken out in 1979 and returned in 2023
Before computer filing systems, cards, similar to the one found in the inside pocket of this returned book, were typically used by librarians to keep records. (Credit: Deschutes Public Library)

There was also an orange card, which Davis says librarians used during the transition away from traditional handwritten processes into a more computerized system.

“There used to be a machine, as you can see from the holes in the card,” she points out. “When you put that in a reader, it would give you information about the book. Then a computer with a little printer that had a really loud ‘bshh-bshh-bshh’ sound to it would print out on the top all that information. It’s here that we have the exact due date for the book, which was April 25, 1979.”

When the book arrived, Davis says she kept it in her office for weeks, waiting for an opportunity to tell the world about it.

That day came on March 8, when she made a post for the library’s Facebook account to commemorate Return the Borrowed Books Week (March 5 - 11).

Davis hopes the discovery serves as a fun, nostalgic reminder that libraries have always been a safe space for young minds to flourish.

“Libraries are the great equalizer,” she says. “They're the place where anybody can come, regardless of job status, housing status, socioeconomic status. It really is a place for everybody. We — and just about every other library in the country — are working hard to make them barrier-free in every aspect: physically, emotionally and spatially.”

That includes a recent change from libraries across the country to remove fees and fines for overdue books, she points out, though some libraries may still have you pay the full price of the book if it is never returned.

“Libraries are barrier-free because, well, they’re free,” Davis says, pointing to the various offerings in addition to books at her library and many others like TV viewing, museum passes and even sewing machines.

Davis and her team are expanding that mission, as they're in the process of building two new locations, which she hopes creates “equitable access to people for as many things as possible” — including childhood play centers for kids, co-working spaces, meeting rooms for business professionals or, simply, “a quiet place for people to come to, which everyone deserves.”

After all, “libraries are just magnificent places,” says Davis. "They're a place everyone can come to be free."

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