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Better Late Than Never Is Library Motto

Times Staff Writer

“The Adventures of Roderick Random” was somewhat overdue at the Fullerton Public Library--about 50 years, in fact.

It was back in 1935 when somebody withdrew the 18th-Century Tobias Smollett novel, so librarians were more than a little surprised when it was finally returned a few weeks ago.

Although the dusty volume came in a few days before an amnesty for overdue books was to begin, librarian Judy Rohr decided to forgo the fine. After all, at the 3-cents-per-day rate in effect 50 years ago, it added up to a whopping $500 tab. (Actually, the library never charges more than the cost of replacement.)

Smollett’s fiction, which Rohr said was “a little bit like Charles Dickens,” was given up for lost until a library patron discovered it while going through the estate of a relative.

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Rohr said the person who originally withdrew the book and failed to return it would remain unidentified because the city would prefer not to defame the dead. To reveal the name would be to cast that person as “a sociopath who didn’t return his library books for 50 years,” she joked.

Eight months is about the longest overdue of any book returned so far in the month-long program, and most fines would have been a few dollars at the prevailing rate of 10 cents a day. Rohr said the library hopes to improve its circulation service with automation next year.

At the moment, the overdue-book problem is bad enough for the library to employ a collector. But violators needn’t worry about paying fines at their front doors.

“She just tries to bring back the books,” said Rohr.

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