By Jon Kramer’s reckoning, the books that his parents checked out from Montgomery County Public Libraries in the 1970s were a combined 85 years overdue.
That worked out to $1,552.30 in late fees, he calculated in November after stumbling upon 365 Meatless Main Dishes and The New Way of the Wilderness at his family’s southern Ontario homestead. He admits he considered slipping the books back onto the shelf where they’d sat for years, racking up fines at a rate of 5 cents per day.
Instead he decided to pay up.
So the Minnesota resident sat down to type a letter that began, “Dear Library Friends.”
He continued as follows:
For many years in the late 1960s and 70s our family lived in Rockville, Maryland and your institution was an important part of our lives. Unlike less enlightened folks, we loved our library! So much in fact that we apparently absconded with a part of it.
Our parents died some years ago but, as is often the case with such things, it has taken awhile for my siblings and I to sort through the artifacts they left behind. On a recent trip to the family homestead in southern Ontario I discovered a bounty of books I had hitherto not especially noticed due to the fact that they’ve molded into our family historic furnishings to the point that they’ve become a naturalized part of our home.
Among the varied collection were two books that apparently came from your facility in Twinbrook: The New Way of the Wilderness, copyright 1958 by Calvin Rustrum, checked out in June 1973 and 365 Meatless Main Dishes, copyright 1974 by William Kaufman, checked out in December 1974.
Both of these books have yet the antiquated computer keypunch cards in their sleeves and apparently were never returned. We apologize for that oversight and hereby endeavor to correct the wrong by paying the accumulated late fees.
I am uncertain of the precise formula you would use to calculate such a fine but I seem to recall that in the mid 1970s the late fee was on the order of $0.05/day. At the present time the two books above have been late by a collective 85 years, or approximately 31,046 days. I have therefore calculated a late fee of $1,552.3 which is enclosed herein.
The matter now arises as to the eventual disposition of these titles. We had considered returning them to the library from which they originated, albeit a bit overdue. However, these books have become imbedded in the family lore and have acquired heirloom status as a result. We, as stewards of our own history, have therefore determined the books are best left in residence on the shelves which they happily occupy at present.
It is our hope that you will refrain from calling the FBI to report this as international trafficking of stolen goods and instead allow us the freedom of maintaining the ill-begotten literature on loan for the next 85 combined years or so, at which time we hope to make another payment to your venerable institution on their behalf.
Sincerely in literature – of the paper kind.
Parker Hamilton, director of the county’s public library system, said she’s never gotten such a letter in her 35 years with the system. In her written response to Kramer, she called the message a “ray of sunshine” for bookworms and storytellers.
She also told him not to worry about any federal agents banging on his door.
Even if Kramer had returned the long-overdue books, the library system probably wouldn’t have forced him to pay the fine, so staff members are treating his payment as a donation to the Twinbrook library. The money will be spent on cookbooks and wilderness guides, in recognition of the books his parents had picked out many years ago, Hamilton said.
“I’m sure his parents are really proud of him,” Hamilton said. “I think he was raised by some really great parents who taught about character, who taught about reading, who taught about the love of literature.”
Kramer, 59, said those two books have particular significance to him and his siblings. Their parents probably chose them as they were gearing up for canoeing and camping trips in remote areas of northern Minnesota, wilderness adventures that they repeated many times through the years. Eventually, his father and mother bought an island near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and established what Kramer calls the “family homestead.”
The two library books made their way onto the island, and Kramer stumbled across them as he was looking through cookbooks to put together a collection of family recipes. His parents probably didn’t intentionally make off with the books; he suspects they simply forgot to return them in the shuffle of their hectic lives.
But his parents had drummed the importance of honesty and responsibility into their four children, so Kramer consulted his two brothers and sister about the going rate for library fines when they were kids and calculated his total payment accordingly. The siblings’ donation seemed particularly appropriate coming around Thanksgiving, he said.
“I was starting to think about what I give thanks for, and one of the things that’s always been important in our family is the opportunity to avail ourselves of education and to be able to use the library system basically for free is one of the great attributes of being American,” he said.
Jon Kramer and his wife, Julie Kramer, on the Ontario island where he recently discovered the overdue books his parents checked out from the Montgomery County Public Libraries in the 1970s, photo via Jon Kramer