Up until about a year ago I had never had a library fine. It was something of a point of honour for me; I prided myself that I was never late taking books back and I always remembered to renew if I needed a book for longer than the date it was due. Perhaps this was because as a child I loved the library at my primary school and then as I grew older libraries became an incredibly important part of my life. We seldom bought new books in our family because of the cost, but I knew that I could find whatever I wanted in the local library and if it wasn't there already they would order it in for me. The fact that my local library was housed in an imposing Victorian building with grandiose architecture, high ceilings and huge windows was an added bonus.
It was in my local library that I first discovered Mills & Boon romance books and I went back week after week to borrow my full allowance, becoming quite annoyed that the authors' output didn't seem to be able to keep up with my borrowing habit. Later I studied in grand libraries in London and Oxford and the highlight of my library habit was going to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to take the oath all students have to make not to burn the place down.
Anyway, back to that library fine. Given this history of blameless library devotion you can imagine how I felt last year when I discovered that I had inadvertently kept a book for one day longer than the due date and that I therefore owed my local library five pence in fines. I was very disappointed in myself.
It cheered me up a great deal to read in the paper yesterday that George Washington, founder of a nation and the man who trounced the English, had taken out two volumes from the New York Society Library on 5 October 1789 and had failed to return them. George Washington has always struck me as a conscientious sort of character, as I am, and so the fact that he could make a mistake like this made me feel a lot better. Even more so when I read that his library fine now stood at roughly $300 000 in present day terms. The works in question were and essay in international affairs called Law of Nations and the 12th volume of a 14 volume collection of debates from the British House of Commons. The ledger apparently has a quill pen entry referring to the borrower as "President" and the volumes should have been handed back by 2nd November the same year. Or renewed, presumably, if Washington wanted to keep them for further perusal.
Apparently other borrowers were more efficient than Washington in returning their books on time. The first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, the first chief justice, John Jay, and Aaron Burr, Jefferson's vice-president, are all listed in the ledger as returning their books on time.
Have you ever had a library fine or do you have an unblemished record?