calvin and hobbes library book

Every so often, usually during a particularly slow news cycle, one comes across a story of a literary desperado finally returning an overdue library book checked out years, perhaps even decades, earlier.

One such incident occurred last summer, when an anonymous library patron returned “The Real Book About Snakes” to the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio, along with a note of apology and $299.30 in cash to cover the fine.

“Sorry I’ve kept this book so long but I’m a really slow reader!” the culprit wrote in a message to the library. “I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years – 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!!”

What makes this example unusual is that the outlaw took it upon himself (anonymous or not, I’m betting the ranch that any book on snakes was checked out by a male patron) to bite the bullet and pay the fine.

Most always, libraries receiving a volume decades past due end up waiving late fees, realizing that fine exceeds the actual cost of the book in question, and also understanding that the return of a work 30, 40 or 50 years past due is more likely to generate good publicity if the library graciously renounces penalties.

That was the case in another example last summer, when the University of Wisconsin’s library received a hardcover copy of “Selected Papers on Philosophy” by William James by mail.

Included with the book was a note indicating that the work had been checked out by one of the writer’s two parents, both of whom had attended the school, although it was unclear which one had borrowed the book on Jan. 13, 1938, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The book’s return slip indicated that patrons would be levied a fine of two cents a day for each day overdue, but the family didn’t have to pony up any cold hard cash as the library no longer collected fees on overdue books. Were the old policy still in effect, the fine would have totaled more than $550.

All of which leads me to a confession of my own: I, too, am a biblio-scofflaw.

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Titanic southampton

There are two oft-cited shibboleths regarding the White Star Line’s decision to construct just 20 lifeboats for the RMS Titanic: cost and aesthetics.

There must have been some short-sighted reason to equip a ship that could carry more than 2,200 people with lifeboats that couldn’t even handle 1,200, right?

Not necessarily. We forget that the regulatory and safety environment is, in some ways, very different than it was 101 years ago today, when the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, taking more than 1,500 souls with her.

Yet, as Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia, wrote last year, the Titanic was fully compliant with all marine laws.

The British Board of Trade required all vessels above 10,000 metric tonnes, or just over 11,000 US tons, to carry 16 lifeboats; the White Star Line went above and beyond the minimum by ensuring that the Titanic exceeded that requirements by four boats.

However, the Titanic weighed more than 51 tons, or far more than upper threshold that the Board of Trade used to base its lifeboat requirement upon.

The problem lay not with greed or a lack of foresight on the part of the Titanic’s builders or owners, but in the fact that regulations had not been updated in nearly 20 years and were designed for a different era.

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Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is the remarkable achievement the ship’s building represented.

A product of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, the Titanic’s creation represented a remarkable transformation for a country just a couple of generations removed from the Great Potato Famine that claimed more than 1 million lives and induced another 1 million-plus to emigrate.

But, as the Irish Times explains, Protestant Belfast was much different from the Ireland of the southern, Catholic portion of the island realm.

“It had grown at a phenomenal rate, surging past Dublin in 1891 to become Ireland’s largest city, and then growing by another 35 per cent in the last decade of the 19th century alone,” according to the publication.

Belfast had the world’s “largest rope works, tobacco factory, linen spinning mill, tea machinery works, dry dock and aerated water factory.”

There was no chance that southern Ireland, lacking the above globally significant industry, could have produced the Titanic.

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We all know what happened to the Titanic 100 years ago this week, but what became of its legendary foe – the mysterious block of ice that proved the “unsinkable” ship all too sinkable?

Actually, there may be a couple of photos in existence that show the deadly iceberg, shortly after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic with more than 1,500 souls aboard.

According to the website io9.com, it’s quite possible sailors aboard two ships in the area of where the Titanic sank snapped pictures of the iceberg collided with the ill-fated ship on April 15, 1912.

“… both photographs feature the telltale sign of a collision with a ship, and likely a recent one at that: a streak of red paint,” writes 109.com. 

One of the photos was taken by the chief steward of the German ocean liner SS Prinz Adalbert, which was sailing through the North Atlantic on April 15, just miles away from where the Titanic had sunk the night before. 

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The Titanic was a boon to the city of Belfast when it was constructed in the early years of the 20th century, as thousands of workers were employed in the construction on the White Star liner at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff’s Shipyard.

Today, 100 years after the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, Belfast is hoping a new visitor attraction about the iconic ship will put the city that built it back on the tourist map.

The Northern Irish capital hopes the Titanic Belfast complex will entice holidaymakers to spend time – and, crucially, money – in the British province, according to Agence France-Presse.

Decades of sectarian violence lasting up through the late 1990s made Northern Ireland a no-go area for foreign visitors and hindered foreign investment. The city is hoping the attraction will give a much-needed boost to its tourism economy.

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking will occur later this week.

With its economy still in the doldrums, thanks in no small part to the Protestant-Catholic violence which rent the region for decades, Northern Ireland is once again looking to Titanic – just as it did a century ago.

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