The Largest Fine Ever Paid for an Overdue Library Book

Daniel Ganninger
March 3, 2023
Bookshelf in library with many books

When a book isn’t returned to a library after the due date, a fine is usually attached to the book. The largest fine ever paid for an overdue library book was $345.14 for the book Days and Deeds, which was checked out in 1955 from the Kewanee Public Library in Illinois.

The poetry book was found by Emily Canellos-Simms at her mother’s house. The book had been checked out in April 1955 and was due back in the same month. Canellos-Simms wasn’t the person who originally checked out the book, but she paid the fine anyway in 2002. The fine was two cents per day after it became overdue, and it was paid 47 years later.

Probably the most egregious overdue book belonged to the first president of the United States, George Washington. He borrowed two books on October 5, 1789, from the New York Society Library. One was the Law of Nations, and the other was Commons Debates, a collection of transcripts from the House of Commons in Great Britain. They were due the next month but were never returned by the president.

The ledger that held that Washington had borrowed the books went missing sometime after 1792 but was then discovered in 1934. There was no record Washington ever returned the books. The fine for the overdue books, when adjusted for inflation, was $300,000.

On May 20, 2010, the staff at Mount Vernon tried to right Washington’s wrong by returning an identical copy of the Law of Nations to the library they had bought online for around $12,000. The library decided to clear Washington and his representatives from the fines. Washington did have a lot going on at the time if you remember.

Sources: Guinness World Records, The Guardian, The Week