Bob Dylan biography rolls like a stone into library after 42 years


Librarian Kelly Bower poses with the returned book. Photo courtesy of Bower.

Devon Helmer, Managing Editor

This previously ran in our April 2022 print issue.

Students often find themselves turning in their library books overdue, missing the return date by only a few days, but one case stands out — a library book returned nearly 42 years late. 

The book, a biography titled Bob Dylan by Daniel Kramer, found its way back to the library in January of 2020, after originally being checked out 41.5 years earlier. The book was checked out on March 20, 1978, and was due back on May 8, 1978, providing a three-week reading window for the book. 

However, this reading window was extended, without notice from the student; instead of making its journey back to the library at the beginning of the next month, the book was instead returned in January 2020. 

EHS Librarian Kelly Bower was, like many others, surprised at the book’s long-awaited return. 

“The person who brought [the book] back in said that he found it while cleaning out a parent’s home,” Bower said. “He doesn’t know anything about it.” 

The book was returned through the main office, instead of the library, leaving the high school’s library staff unable to question the returnee. Members of the office staff at the time declined to comment. The student who originally took out the book remains unidentified, as does the child of the student who was responsible for its homecoming. 

The only means of identification provided by the returned copy of the biography are the name and room number written on a slip of paper located on the inside of the cover. Due to the length of time that has passed since the book was first taken out, the name is indecipherable and the room number is irrelevant; the school has undergone many changes and renovations since the late 1970s.

Also in January of 2020, across the Lehigh Valley, the Bethlehem Area Public Library experienced a case of a long-awaited return: the book, Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus, by Charles Mee found its way back to library shelves, 40 years later. 

According to Lehigh Valley Live, the copy was originally assigned a return date of Dec. 18, 1980. The book’s unidentified loanee first brought the book back to the Memorial Library of Nazareth and Vicinity, only to have it passed along back to its place of origin. Their story of an overdue return, in addition to Emmaus’, were both covered by local media outlets at the time. 

“It was so bizarre, it was literally three days later,” Bower said. “After we heard that, we were like, that’s such a library story. Then that got returned to us. It just was totally coincidental.”

Ultimately, neither the former Emmaus student who took out the book, nor their alleged son returning it, were charged a fine for the prolonged borrowing of the biography of the American singer-songwriter. Bower shares how, even if this man had returned the book to the library, he would not have been charged a late fee, and it wouldn’t have been the high price tag some might assume it would be.

“That [fine] would be somewhere in the $400 or $500 range, and that would make for a better story,” Bower said.  “We’re not trying to collect money, that’s not what the library’s for. The fine is just an incentive so people will bring things back more quickly.”

Instead, Emmaus’s library approaches overdue materials by placing a five-cent-per-school day fine on the majority of their books, with the exception of some higher-demand materials whose fine may be greater, only by a few cents. This fine does not include weekends, holidays, or, formerly, COVID-19 closures. The fine continues to grow as the eligible fine days go on, until the value of the fee reaches half the present-day value of the book.

“Currently, it’s only $35 on Amazon. The most he could have owed us is $17.50,” Bower said. “A lot of people think that that nickel is going to go for 41 and a half years.”

More recently published biographies on Bob Dylan have been added to the library’s collection since the spring the book was originally taken out, nearly 42 years ago. Instead of placing the book back into circulation, the EHS library staff has instead taken the opportunity to memorialize this tale. 

“I framed it. I went to Hobby Lobby and I got all kinds of stuff like music, background stuff, and framed it,” Bower said. “It’s never too late to return your library book.”