Stephanie Hartwell-Mandella was taken aback recently when she was checking messages on behalf of the Marin County Free Library’s Corte Madera branch and saw a note about a first-grader who had failed to return a checked-out book.
There’s nothing unusual about a kid who borrows a book for too long. But in this case, too long was 48 years.
Even more unusual was that the now-grown man’s friend wanted to rectify the situation.
“Obviously, it was almost 50 years ago and has been lost to time, but I was wanting to pay the late fee or replacement cost for the book as a joke and giving him a confirmation receipt for Christmas,” read the message.
The note came from Kenny Newell, who lives and works in the Dallas area. Newell outed the thief as his boss, Tony Goodman, CEO and president of PeopleFun, one of the world’s biggest developers of mobile word games, including the popular Wordscapes. Goodman has formed studios that are responsible for some of the most noteworthy games of all time, including the Age of Empires franchise.
Goodman spent just one of his wonder years living in Corte Madera and attended Neil Cummins Elementary School. The book he checked out in the summer of 1972 was Look Out For Pirates!, by Iris Vinton. “I really liked the book,” Goodman said. “It’s a great read for kids.”
On Friday, Dec. 11, Newell presented a note to Goodman at their workplace with a receipt for $58 paid to MCFL. That accounted for a $48 late fee – a dollar for each year overdue, playfully agreed to by MCFL – and the estimated $10 cost of replacing the book in 1972 dollars.
“During a year when smiles are in short supply and tension has been high for many, it was fun to stop and do something silly,” Newell said. “Hopefully, it won’t count against me on my next employee quarterly review.”
MCFL did away with fines on children’s materials in 2015 and followed by eliminating fines on adult materials in July 2019.
“What a wonderful surprise to find Mr. Newell’s note in our inbox during these vexing times,” said Hartwell-Mandella, the branch manager in Corte Madera. “His is a classic example … fear of fines becomes a barrier to service. Often children’s cards are blocked, meaning they won’t have library access. No one benefits from blocking a child’s card.”
Just for fun, MCFL decided to calculate how much the late fee would’ve been back in the day. Ten cents per day at 17,865 days is 178,650 cents, or $1,786.50. “Although,” Hartwell-Mandella said, “we would’ve capped the final at the original cost of the book, which was probably no more than $5 or $10 back in 1971.
MCFL Director Sara Jones said she would like to see the incident go viral and that others offer to match or one-up Newell’s gesture.
“In a way, we hope hundreds of people find overdue books, become overcome with guilt, and get inspired to make peace with their local libraries,” Jones said. “It’s critical right now to support reading and education at a time when stay-at-home orders are keeping people inside and curled up with books. And it’s also good for karma.”
During a sheltering order, supporting libraries is also more important than ever. The MCFL website has more information about how to make a donation and support in other ways.