Florida man returns stolen guidebook to Morgan Library after 47 years

A Guide to the Colorado Mountains

This guidebook disappeared from the Morgan Library in the 1970s. 

One summer day in 1974, one of the three copies of the popular Guide to the Colorado Mountains quietly disappeared from the Morgan Library. 

Its location was unknown until October, when someone sent an anonymous message to the library’s online chat service. The sender wanted to know if they could return a copy of Guide to the Colorado Mountains that belonged to the library nearly 50 years ago.   

“Of course,” replied library employee Matt Diven. 

The sender confessed that they had stolen the book many years earlier, and they wanted to return it in person to make amends. Diven was surprised but thanked the person for their honesty and provided details about how to return a book. 

“I was reading the chat box enraptured,” Diven said. 

The tale of the mysterious book thief was the talk of the library. Who was this person? Why did they steal the book? Why return it after all these years? Would they want to share their story? 

A few weeks later, the book thief’s identity was revealed when he returned the book to the Morgan Library. It was Florida resident Jim Mandeville. 

A road trip to remember

In 1974, 19-year-old Mandeville was visiting Fort Collins before embarking on a months-long backpacking trip with his friends across the state. 

“We wanted to go into the mountains but didn’t know any of the mountains, so a friend suggested going to the (CSU) library,” he said. “We went to the library and found the book. We said, ‘Here’s a perfect book, a Guide to the Colorado Mountains.  

Boy I hated to do (it), but it’s our only reference. So, I put it in my coat and walked out with it.” 

The book accompanied Mandeville and his friends throughout the state as they hitchhiked from Fort Collins to Estes Park, Leadville, Telluride and back again. 

Jim Mandeville

A composite of Jim Mandeville on his 1974 cross-country road trip across Colorado. 

“We always camped outside,” he said. “We wanted to go to the ‘Alps of the Rockies’ around Telluride, where the mountains jut up from the valley, and every night, we passed the guide around the campfire to figure out where we wanted to go next.” 

Throughout their journey, the book remained a steadfast companion, and it provided guidance for the group’s travels across the state. 

“We hitchhiked the entire way and got picked up by VW buses more than anything else, funny enough,” he said. “We lived on PB&J, ramen noodles and tuna fish out of a can. Every night we slept outdoors under the stars and felt like we went back in time.” 

The end to one book’s decades-long journey

The “authoritative guide” to the Colorado mountains has traveled with Mandeville across the country, from Colorado to Wisconsin, Vermont and Florida. While downsizing their home this year, Mandeville and his wife stumbled on the stolen guide.

“Since my son lives out in Loveland, I thought it’d be the right thing to do to bring it back to the CSU Libraries to get it off my guilty conscience for having it all these years, and I felt better bringing it back to the library after my wife encouraged me to,” he said. 

Jim Mandeville hikes the Grand Canyon
Jim Mandeville and his friend Phil Brewster hike the Grand Canyon in 1974.

In the years since visiting Colorado, he has become a professional photographer in Florida. His trip to Colorado inspired a lifelong reverence for the mountains. He continues to visit Telluride every year to ski with his son.

After keeping the book as a sentimental token of his odyssey through Colorado, Mandeville felt returning it would be the right thing to do. 

“When I handed it off, it had that feeling of giving it away like, ‘Goodbye, buddy, thanks for everything,’” Mandeville said. “But it made me feel like I did the right thing by giving it back to the school. I did it for my heart, not for notoriety.” 

From the perspective of library employees, Mandeville’s story is a happy one. 

“Regardless of how the story began, the library and our materials have done our job if he was able to gain something from our resources,” Diven said. “That is a pretty good feeling, knowing a life has been changed by a book – even one gained through illicit means.” 

The returned guide will be on display at the Loan and Reserve Desk until the end of the semester.

A 47year late fee?  

This is a moot point because this particular book was stolen, but it’s a question many people might have. So, Jenna Allen, the director of communications for CSU Libraries, scoured decades-old physical copies of the Collegian for answers.   

Here’s what she found: In 1970, overdue book fines were reduced to $0.25 per day (that’s equivalent to roughly $1.78 in 2021 money), with a grace period of 24 hours. Fines maxed out at $15, which would be about $106 in 2021. So, if Jim were charged a late fee, it would have been $15.    

Another blast from the library’s past? In 1974, just months after Jim stole the book, the Morgan Library installed detectors to deter theft. The system before involved people stationed at each exit and physically checking each library patron. Two years after installing the detectors, the library estimated that theft went down by 50-75%.   

Today, the CSU Libraries doesn’t charge overdue fees on most books. If the book is lost or missing, library users are charged a fee to replace the book.