When Betty Diamond returned a book to the Queens Public Library recently after 63 years, she calculated what she might have owed.
Diamond said the fine was 2 cents a day in 1957, when she was a 10-year-old in Whitestone, Queens. At that rate she would have owed $459.
But, at a certain point, she said, the fines stop and the library assumes the book is lost and charges a replacement fee.
"So, you know, there's not really 63 years' worth of fines," said Diamond, 74, who lives on Madison's Near West Side, and is a playwright and director for Madison Theatre Guild at the Bartell Theatre.
Diamond made a $500 donation to the Queens Public Library Foundation in lieu of a replacement fee on the book, "Ol’ Paul, the Mighty Logger" by Glen Rounds. Diamond said as a girl she was embarrassed to return the overdue book.
When she finally sent back the book last month and made her contribution, the library foundation reached out to her and asked if she'd be willing to do interviews. She agreed because she thought it could be a good fundraising tool for the library.
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Libraries are important to her, she said, and are suffering financially.
After the book's return, a library publicist interviewed her and pitched it to various news outlets, including The New York Times, which ran a story Wednesday.
Diamond said she just expected the story to run in "the local Queens library newsletter or something," but since the story came out, she's heard from the CBS affiliate in New York City and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for its show "As It Happens."
“Ol’ Paul, the Mighty Logger” was a favorite book of hers as a child, and Diamond said she tried to read the collection of tall Paul Bunyan tales last month before she decided to return it, but the stories didn't hold up.
"The Paul Bunyan stories are all about exaggeration, like Paul Bunyan's beard is so long, he combs it with a pine tree, that kind of thing, and he's so big..." said Diamond, who has a doctorate in English from the UW-Madison, and is retired from teaching literature at UW-Whitewater.
"I started reading the stories, and I don't find exaggeration and those things funny anymore. It reminds me of (former President Donald) Trump. I couldn't finish reading the book. I was like, 'Oh, no, not funny anymore.' "
Since the pandemic started, all New York City library systems have waived late fees, and Nick Buron, chief librarian of the Queens Public Library, told The Times that there have been discussions about eliminating late fees altogether.
This summer, the Madison Public Library system joined a growing list of libraries eliminating late fees, in large part to ensure that lower-income people can continue to check out materials.
Madison had been considering the move to a fully fine-free model since 2019, and in August ended most fines and zeroed out overdue accounts, ending the use of a collection agency. The library had been charging 25 cents a day for overdue adult items.
The system continues to charge for lost or damaged materials, although it's not using a collection agency to recover that money.
Tana Elias, Madison Public Library's digital services and marketing manager, said Madison libraries routinely purge very old "lost" items.
Margaret Navarre Saaf, Madison Public Library's borrower services manager, said lost and/or damaged charges don't stay on the library's books forever. The library routinely purges charges that are under $100 and more than 10 years old.
Madison library staffers manually cleared fines from more than 33,000 patron records, from fines over $300, to 5-cent fines, Elias said. It took months, but the library finished that process last week.
Elias said that after clearing the fines, the library has 3,478 patrons who are no longer blocked from checking out materials, although some will need to update their address or contact information.
People are blocked from checking out once they incur $20.01 in fines, she said. Most of the 30,000 had fines that were under the $20 limit, so they were still able to check materials out, even with fines on their cards.
Others had fines waived, but still had lost/damaged charges on their records that were over $20, so they will continue to be blocked from checking out until the damaged/lost charges are paid.
Elias said the library forgave $282,084 in fines. "Library fines, or the fear of incurring library fines, was a deterrent to library use for some people and we are happy to remove one more barrier from using the public library," Elias said.
"In these COVID-19 times, there has been an added bonus of not having to handle cash for fine payments," she said. "We're grateful to the board for making this decision, and incredibly grateful for the many hours staff spent making this a reality."
Elias said that, for the most part, library users still turn in their books on time. The library offers email reminders when library items are due in two days. Customers have the option to turn those on or off, she said, but many customers use them.
The percentage of those who are late with returns varies day by day and is not tracked daily. Elias said that a snapshot from 2019 that the library used to present to the library board showed that of 151,433 registered library card holders, 47,780 (32%) had fines and 9,829 (6.5%) were blocked.
She said blocks were higher in libraries serving lower-income neighborhoods. "By the time we actually started clearing fines, those numbers had dropped, in part due to waiving fines due to COVID for many months."
The library also sends overdue notices by email, phone or mail, so library users can renew materials, if possible, or return them.
"We noticed that overall fine revenue decreased when we offered the pre-overdue notice service a few years back," Elias said.
Diamond said that as a child, libraries were a place of comfort. "It was like being a kid in the candy store. It was just like, 'Ooh, look at all these books, and you can take home. Because I just loved books. I loved going into the world of books. I was a great reader."
She said to her the public library was a "a statement of faith and humanity."
"It's like here, 'take this book and we trust that you will return it, you know?' And it's just such generosity that I really feel it needs to be acknowledged and honored."
Diamond said when she was growing up her parents, immigrants from a small town in what was then Czechoslovakia, spoke to each other in Hungarian, their native language, while addressing Diamond and her older brother in English or Yiddish.
"It was a treat to get to explore different worlds" through books, she said.
Paul Bunyan, meanwhile, plays a part in local history. In the early 1900s, K. Bernice Stewart, a UW student, gathered Paul Bunyan stories from Midwest woodsmen. In 1916, she published a scholarly anthology of original anecdotes through a series of interviews.
"Bunyan was a powerful giant, seven feet tall and with a stride of seven feet. He was famous throughout the lumbering districts for his great physical strength," Stewart wrote with Homer A. Watt in "Legends of Paul Bunyan, Lumberjack."
Charles E. Brown, a curator of the Museum of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and secretary of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, was another principal researcher who recorded early Paul Bunyan stories from lumberjacks.
In 2007, Michael Edmonds of the Wisconsin Historical Society investigated the Paul Bunyan tradition and published his findings in "Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan."
He concluded that Paul Bunyan had origins in the oral traditions of woodsmen working in Wisconsin camps during the turn of the 20th century, but the stories were heavily embellished and popularized by commercial interests.
Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020
It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.
The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.
Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.
While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.
It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.
With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.
Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.
The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.
Officers found the victim, believed to be an adult male, in the 100 block of North Blair Street about 3:45 p.m. Saturday after receiving a report that a person had been shot.
This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires.
Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools.
Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.
This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.
David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.
A jogger saw a man and a woman lying in a ditch at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.
Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.
The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.
While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.
For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force."
Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.
Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.
Authorities identified the victim of a Friday night homicide as Nang Yee Lee, who died Monday. The suspect is hospitalized.
The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.
There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.
"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.
Protesters tore down statues of Forward and a Union Civil War colonel, assaulted a state senator and set a small fire in a city building Downtown on Tuesday night after the arrest of a Black activist seen causing a disturbance in a restaurant earlier in the day.
School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately.
Madison police are investigating a shooting Tuesday night at a Far East Side motel that left one man with life-threatening injuries.
The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.
As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.
There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night.
Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.
The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.
The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.
"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said.
The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.
UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.
After 69 years as one of the leading attractions in the Wisconsin Dells area, the Tommy Bartlett Show announced Wednesday that it would close permanently after losing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.
The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.
The two victims, ages 17 and 18, who were taken to a local hospital, suffered significant injuries but were expected to survive, acting Police Chief Vic Wahl said Saturday night.
A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.
"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks," Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.
Isai Morocho, 16, was “a caring friend and family member with a ready smile and great sense of humor,” his principal said.
The jet from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field in Madison crashed Tuesday night. The status of the pilot remains unknown.
St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.
The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.
A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps