December 15, 2016

What might an overdue library book returned 120 years late cost you…?



Arthur Boycott. From the National Portrait Gallery / SWNS, via the Guardian.

What’s the biggest library fine you’ve ever got for returning late books? $5? $10?

How about $9,423?

This is the fine Alice Gillet, from Somerset in the UK, could have been faced with when she discovered a library book her late grandfather, Professor Arthur Boycott, had borrowed in the late nineteenth century and never returned.

Professor Boycott took out The Microscope and its Revelations by Dr William B. Carpenter as a child from the library at Hereford Cathedral School (HCS), which he attended between 1886 and 1894. At fifteen years old he wrote his first scientific paper at the school, which catalogued the snail species that could be found in his local area. He went on to study natural science at Oxford University, graduating with first-class honours in physiology, and became a respected naturalist and pathologist.

Gillet told the Somerset Country Gazette:

“As a child he took great interest in natural history, and his particular passion was snails…

“He also had a fascination with fauna and flora, which made him quite a hazardous driver because he was so obsessed with observing the hedgerows.

“My grandmother said he always had snails in his pockets.”

Gillett came across the 1,000-page tome when, after her husband’s death, she was sorting through a collection of 6,000 books. Finding the HCS library stamp on the inside cover, she realized the extraordinary truth, and decided to return the book to the school along with a note reading: “I am sorry to inform you that one of your former pupils, Prof AE Boycott FRS, appears to have stolen the enclosed. I can’t imagine how the school has managed without it!”

Perhaps this book helped inspire the Professor’s future career. The little boy once obsessed with snails now has his own portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Based on the rate at Hereford library, the fine could have been charged at 17 pence a day, over 120 years, totalling around £7,446.

A spokesperson for the school, one of the oldest in the country, told Sally Weale at the Guardian that they do not charge pupils fees for overdue books. “We don’t want to put them off borrowing books… Our pupils are really, really good at bringing them back.”

Well, not all pupils…

So all’s well that ends well. And the lesson here? Stay in school kids. And don’t take a chance with your library books in such a reckless way, you might not be so lucky.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.