New figures show that UCL libraries collected £180,000 last year in overdue and replacement book fines, while students were fined up to £2,800 last term for breaking library regulations.
The data for lost and overdue books was released in response to a Freedom of Information request. The Press Association contacted 101 UK universities asking them to disclose how much money was collected from fines since 2006. The results show that universities collectively took over £50m over the past 6 years.
Leeds University collected the most in fines, averaging £300,000 per year. Imperial College London, which only charges fines on requested books, collected only £25,000 over the entire 6 year period. The £180,000 UCL collected in overdue loans and book replacement fees in 2010-11 sits around the average. Like most universities, UCL uses the money to update its library collections.
UCL’s fines for overdue books are set at roughly the going rate for a university library. For every day a book is overdue on a standard 8-week loan, the fine is 10p per day. This increases to 30p per day on a week loan, and 50p per hour on a short-term loan.
Head of Reader services, Vincent Matthews, is satisfied with the current rate. “There has been no increase in fines since 1998, and we see no reason to change them in the near future. No system is perfect, but we believe the balance is right.”
Unlike at other UK universities, UCL students can also be fined for breaking library regulations. A fine of £5 is issued for talking in the library, using a phone in a non-designated area, or failing to observe a warning from an attendant. Students can be fined £20 for attempting to leave the library with an unissued book, and for using another student’s ID card.
Contrary to the general impression, these fines are not set or implemented by the library services, but were put in place in 2009 by the Dean of Student Welfare’s office to clamp down on improper use of the libraries.
Many UCL students have voiced their dissatisfaction with the misconduct fines system. Second-year Art History student Hannah Tuck said, “I understand that a small charge is necessary for overdue books, but when it comes to walking out with a book by mistake, a £20 fine is excessive.”
However, Head of Security Jay Woodhouse believes a high fine is necessary if it is to be effective. “The level of the fine is set as a deterrent. We want students to be aware that if they break one of the core regulations in the library, they will be fined. The aim is to get students not to break the rules.”
In the case of setting off library security alarms by accident, he added “It would not be reasonable to ask my attendants to make judgements on who was trying to steal a book and who was genuinely forgetful. The only way to prevent theft is to have fixed rules and ensure the attendants enforce them evenly to all.”
The misconduct system has however relinquished to some backlash from students. Attendants can no longer fine students £5 for bringing food and drink into the library. The measure was ineffective and incurred a number of complaints.