John Tyler High School librarian Laura Russell received a special package in the mail recently.
Opening the package, she removed the contents that were carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Inside were two things; a copy of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle and a handwritten note that read:
Dear John Tyler Librarian,
I’ve had this book for 39 years. I don’t remember if I paid a lost book fine for it, but every time I see it on my bookshelf I feel that I should return it. And so…here it is.
Rebecca Brasher Bish, Class of ’76
“I am in the 25th year of my career and this is the first time this has ever happened,” Ms. Russell said. “I think it is the coolest thing.”
Since graduating from John Tyler in 1976, Rebecca Brasher Bish has moved from Tyler to Austin to Dallas to New Orleans and ultimately to Tucson and The Jungle ended up on her bookshelf in each city.
“Every time I walked by and noticed it on the shelf I would feel a twinge of ‘I should return that book,” Mrs. Bish says. “A couple weeks ago I thought to myself, ‘today is the day.’”
Mrs. Bish wishes she could remember the details regarding why she checked it out in the first place in 1975; if it was a reading assignment from her English teacher Ms. Bradshaw or if it were simply because reading was one of her favorite hobbies.
“I just remember that this book was pivotal to me because it was my first awareness that this kind of injustice ever existed,” she said, referring to the book’s plot of exposing the harsh living and working conditions for immigrant workers in the United States in the early 1900s.
Mrs. Bish said she was tempted to re-read the book before returning it, but told herself to “go your own copy and send this one back.”
Ms. Russell said the late fee for library books is five cents per day. At 39 years overdue, Mrs. Bish has tallied up a fine much larger than the book’s original cost of $.75 as printed on the front cover. However, Ms. Russell now considers the book invaluable and has placed it in the library’s memorabilia case.
“I am a big fan of libraries and use them often,” Ms. Bish said. “The biggest irony here is that when I got this book into the mail, I actually owed $1.75 in late fees to my library here. But I promise that it is paid now!”