January 21, 2022

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Lesson of the Day: ‘After 110 Years, an Overdue Book Is Returned to a Library in Idaho’

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Featured Article: “After 110 Years, an Overdue Book Is Returned to a Library in Idaho” by Alyssa Lukpat

In 1911, someone checked out a copy of the book “New Chronicles of Rebecca” by Kate Douglas Wiggin from a library in Boise, Idaho. It was not returned until 110 years later in November 2021 — in immaculate condition.

In this lesson, you will learn about the journey of this book and librarians’ response to its mysterious return. Then, you will discuss the importance of public libraries and practice tagging archival materials as part of a citizen archivist project to learn more about the way libraries are cataloged.

In your journal, reflect on a time that you found something you had thought was lost forever.

How did it feel when the item first went missing? What circumstances allowed you to recover the item? How did you feel when you finally found it again?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What is so special about the journey of the book “New Chronicles of Rebecca”?

2. What do librarians know about the book’s return? What remains unclear?

3. What questions do you have about the book and its time away from the library?

4. What is one theory that librarians have about the book and its return? What do you think? How might the book have remained in such good condition while being checked out for so long?

5. What makes this copy of “New Chronicles of Rebecca” unique? What also makes it ordinary?

Option 1: Tell us about your experiences with libraries.

Respond to one or more of the following questions in writing or in a discussion with a partner:

  • Do you use your public library or your school library? What do you use it for? If you use neither, why is that?

  • Has your local library ever encountered a mystery like the return of “New Chronicles of Rebecca”? If so, what was it? Was it ever solved? What questions do you have about it?

  • The article mentioned that many libraries are now getting rid of overdue fines. Do you think this is a good policy? Or should libraries charge patrons when books are returned late? Why?

  • How important do you think public libraries are? Do you think it is important for communities to have free physical spaces where all types of people can congregate? Is it necessary for all people to have free access to books and other resources that libraries offer? Or, with so many things moving online these days, are libraries less important than they once were?

Option 2: Try a citizen archivist project.

To ensure that books and historical artifacts are easily accessible to the public, libraries use metadata — language that describes what is included in a collection — to catalog items and help people find them. Learning about it can help you better understand library science.

Try your hand at using metadata by participating in a citizen archivist project for the Adler Planetarium. The project asks you to tag digitized items to help the planetarium organize their resources and help people find them.

Tag at least five items. Then, reflect on your experience with these prompts:

  • What was your experience tagging the images and artifacts? How often did you have to create your own tags?

  • How important do you think tagging is for members of the public who need to find books or archival materials?

  • What biases might individual taggers have when doing this work? How might that affect users of the catalog trying to find different historical artifacts?


Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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