A Patron Returned a Book to a Maryland Library Nearly 75 Years After It Was Due

Montgomery County Public Libraries
Montgomery County Public Libraries

The old adage "better late than never" applies to many things in life. Ask the librarian at your local library, and he or she will probably tell you that returning long-overdue books is one of them. As WLJA News in Washington, D.C. reports, a patron recently returned a book to the Silver Spring Library in Maryland 73 years after it was due.

A worn, illustrated copy of The Postman was, appropriately, mailed to the library with a letter attached. In it, a woman explained that her family had checked out the book in 1946 when she was just a toddler. "The family then moved to Canada on short notice and the book was packed up with everything else," the library wrote, summarizing the gist of her letter.

Even if she happened to forget where the book came from, she didn't have to look far. A stamp inside it reads "Property of Silver Spring Library," which is part of Maryland's Montgomery County Public Libraries system.

The inside of the book
Montgomery County Public Libraries

An illustration inside the book
Montgomery County Public Libraries

It's an especially rare find because the library no longer carries books by that particular author, Charlotte Kuh. Its value has likely increased with time, too. A copy of The Postman from 1929 is currently selling on Amazon for $29, and another book in the sames series from 1934 is available for $25.

Noble deeds like these make headlines from time to time. In 2017, Massachusetts's Attleboro Public Library received a copy of T.S. Arthur's The Young Lady at Home 78 years after it had been checked out. Likewise, a rare copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde had been "lost" for the same length of time, but was ultimately returned to the Chicago Public Library in 2012. The library's then-marketing director, Ruth Lednicer, said the woman who returned the book feared she'd be punished for coming forward.

"She kept saying, 'You’re not going to arrest me?'" Lednicer said, "and we said, 'No, we're so happy you brought it back.'" Like we said: It's never too late.

[h/t WLJA News]

Experts Say Storytime Can Help Children Recover From Trauma

Jordan Pix, Getty Images
Jordan Pix, Getty Images

The lives of millions of Syrian children have been disrupted by their country's ongoing civil war. As a result of this crisis, refugees from Syria have poured into camps in neighboring countries like Jordan, where children might not have an outlet to process their feelings or painful experiences.

According to The New York Times, an innovative reading program in Jordan is helping to heal some of these emotional wounds. The non-profit organization is called We Love Reading, and it has trained adult volunteers to read aloud to refugee children. It also designs and supplies the books, which have been written in such a way to include scenarios that are relevant to the children’s personal experiences.

For example, one book titled Above the Roof explains everyday weather events like wind and rain in an effort to alleviate fears among children who become frightened by sudden, loud noises. It appears to be working, too. Anecdotally, there have been reports of children starting to talk more freely about their fears after sitting through storytime. One child who had been wetting the bed because he was too afraid to use the bathroom by himself stopped doing so after a few reading sessions with a volunteer.

There has also been some scientific evidence of its efficacy, according to neuroscientist and Brown University associate professor Dima Amso. As part of a pilot study, she traveled to Jordan to assess the cognitive development of 30 to 40 children who had participated in the program. She and other researchers collected data before the children’s participation as well as three months into the program, then compared the results in the lab. Their findings reveal that the program appeared to improve the children's mental health and cognitive development.

“We can’t change [the children’s] political climate but what we can do is say, ‘Here are the resilience and risk factors that are going to make them most likely to benefit,’” Amso told The Brown Daily Herald last year.

The We Love Reading program was founded in 2006 by a Jordanian molecular biologist named Rana Dajani, who also spent some time in the U.S. as a Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. More than 152,000 reading sessions have been held so far, and the program has since expanded to Africa, where volunteers work with South Sudanese refugees at the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia.

[h/t The New York Times]

Springer Nature Has Published the First AI-Written Textbook

iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto
iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto

The first AI-written textbook is here, and its tech-heavy subject is exactly what you might expect from a machine-learning algorithm. As Smithsonian reports, the book, published by Springer Nature, is a 247-page guide titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research.

While it doesn’t exactly make for light reading, the fact that it was written entirely by Beta Writer—an algorithm designed by researchers in Germany—is a game changer. Sure, AI has dabbled with writing before, helping journalists pen articles and even crafting entire chapters for the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. (We highly recommend the riveting tale of Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.) But this is the first time AI has authored an entire research book, complete with a table of contents, introductions, and linked references.

The information was pulled from Springer Nature’s online database. While the grammar and syntax are a little clunky, the book manages to get the point across. (Here’s one sample sentence: “Respectively, safety issue is apparently challengeable till now even after the first commercialization of lithium-ion battery.”)

With the exception of an introduction to the book that was written by Henning Schoenenberger, Springer Nature's director of product data and metadata, the finished product was left unedited and unpolished. This was done “to highlight the current status and remaining boundaries of machine-generated content,” according to Schoenenberger. The publisher hopes to experiment with AI-powered textbooks on other subjects in the future.

Artificial intelligence has certainly come a long way in recent years, and algorithms have been trained to carry out a number of oddly specific tasks. They can design beer, figure out the ingredients in your meal, find Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” picture, and remake the music video of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In one of the more meta developments in tech news, Google’s AI even learned to make its own AI in 2017.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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