In her 20th-floor apartment on the East Side of Manhattan, on a recent Saturday afternoon, Barbara Roston was busy explaining that she was definitely not a thief.
“It was a youthful indiscretion,” she said, “I didn’t mean to steal it.”
And yet, there it was, sitting on her desk: A faded green copy of “Gone With the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell, that belonged to the Brooklyn Public Library.
It was 57 years overdue.
In her retirement, Ms. Roston, 72, decided to reread the book, which she had kept on her bookshelf for years, when she noticed the library’s markings.
On the last page, stuck to the paper pocket, was a sticker explaining the library’s policy: “Give your NEIGHBOR a chance to borrow this book. Return it on or before DUE DATE SHOWN ABOVE. The fee is 5¢ per calendar day for each book kept overdue.”
This volume was due back on Nov. 18, 1959. After 20,842 days since, Ms. Roston would owe the library $1,042.10.
. . . .
Ms. Roston, a Brooklyn native, checked out the book when she was 15. At the time she was a sales audit clerk at Macy’s, making $1 an hour.
. . . .
The Crown Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is a squat building topped with a large clock on New York Avenue.
When Ms. Roston entered, she grabbed the nearest librarian and began whispering. She slowly pulled the book out of a tote bag. What followed was a lot of hushed giggling.
“Oh, wow, this looks like, from a really long time ago,” said Stefanie Sinn, a children’s librarian. “This is, like, a relic.”
“Well, I’m kind of a relic, too,” Ms. Roston said.