‘1984’ Makes Surprising Return to a Library after 65 Years

Have an overdue library book? Don’t forget to return it, or you’ll end up with a 65-year-late return like this copy of George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

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It’s never too late to return a library book. Or at least for a library in Oregon, the return of a novel after 65 years was welcome. The book, checked out by a college student, got returned by an 86-year-old man years after he initially checked it out. Here’s what prompted him to finally return 1984, the classic novel by George Orwell that has always stirred debate.

What is 1984?


In case 1984 didn’t make it into your school curriculum, here’s some context. 1984 follows the story of Winston Smith, a man in a dystopian society constantly under the watchful eye of Big Brother. But Winston is a bit of a rebel—he writes in a journal, expresses individuality, and falls in love. Until he’s caught by Big Brother and his covert rebellious habits fall apart.

George Orwell isn’t one for writing happy endings, and 1984 is no different. But the way that Orwell approaches dystopian societies is what makes it so timeless, and why it’s still a part of so many curriculums.

Who Returned 1984?

The first-edition copy of 1984 came back to the library through an unknown sender, signed by “WP”. In 1958 he checked it out from Multnomah County Library.

He did leave a short note with the return of the book, explaining how he believed more people needed to read 1984, now more than ever, with the rise of social media. He also explained how he wanted to return it after graduating from Portland State University but had forgotten. So the book collected dust on his shelves for 65 years, until its return to the library in relatively good condition.

What Did the Library Do?

Multnomah County Library expressed only gratitude to have the book once again in their collection. They even tweeted about it, and you can read the full letter WP wrote in the tweet:


WP expresses that he wanted to “finally clear his conscience” with the return of the book, and realized that “this book should be put back in circulation.” He believed 1984 reflects much of what the world faces today.

Thankfully, Multnomah County Library is a fine-free library. So there’s no charge for the late return, regardless of how many years went by. Unlike some other incredibly late returns, which totaled up to a $3000 fee for a 78-year-late return.

Hopefully, returning the book cleared WP’s conscience as he wanted. It goes to show we should all be a little more grateful for the public libraries that lend us classic stories and new ones. Remember to support your local libraries, and try to return your books on time (or at least, not 65 years late).

Want to read more about libraries? Check out this article about digital libraries.