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Have you ever been late returning a book from the library? Maybe by a day or two, or even a week? How about being 119 years old? …no? Well, it actually took that long for a particular book from the New Bedford Free Public Library in Massachusetts to return to the library's shelves. 

British scientist James Clerk Maxwell's "Elementary Treatise on Electricity'', which he borrowed in 1904, was finally returned in 2023. The book was first discovered by Stewart Plain, curator of rare books at the West Virginia University Library. The librarian came across a  copy of Maxwell's paper while sorting through recently donated books. It was in good condition for such an old book, but there was one problem. It appears to have once been part of the library's collection, as there was no stamp to indicate that it had been officially collected. Therefore, it seemed like a lost and long-awaited book.

Ms Plain contacted New Bedford's Special Collections Librarian Jody Goodman. Library staff had seen overdue books returned after 10 years or 15 years, but this was new. "It's come back in great condition," New Bedford Public Library Director Olivia Mello said.

"Someone clearly kept this on a nice bookshelf, as it is in very good condition and has probably been passed down through the family." Her Beginner's Treatise on Electricity was first published in 1881, and The book in question was added to the library's collection every year. It was subsequently recorded as indicated by the stamp on the first page. This book was published two years after Maxwell's death and included some of the lectures he gave on electricity at Cambridge University.

Despite its age, this copy is not considered a rare edition of the work.  New His Bedford Library charges a late fee of 5 cents per day, so a book 119 years overdue would cost him $2,100 in late fees. However, the library's late fee is up to $2. Rather, its true value lies in its history since the loan. "The value of a printed book, not a digital one, is that it doesn't disappear. Just holding it in your hand makes you feel like someone had this book 120 years ago and read it. And that It’s in my hands now,” Melo says. "It will still be here a hundred years from now. A printed book will always have value."

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