The University library makes thousands of pounds through fining students every year, a Nouse investigation has found. Figures from a freedom of information request show that in the period September 2012 – May 2017, the library has made £170 640 from fine payments made against overdue items.
In the last three years, a total of 6216 individual library accounts incurred fines: roughly equivalent to half of all undergraduate students currently enrolled at the University. From September of 2016 through to 30 April 2017, 2309 accounts have already received fines (almost equalling the number of accounts fined in the entirety of the previous academic year – 2436). This year therefore appears to be on target to raise a similar annual return of around £30 000.
According to the library, all of the cash from late fines is “reinvested in the library collections budget”, but some believe that given the increasing financial pressure on students, the extent of the fines seems excessive. One History student told Nouse “I think it’s unreasonable that the library is profiting this much by punishing us. I get there has to be a way of them ensureing books get brought back on time, but does it really have to squeeze this much money out of students?”
Though thousands of people are charged every year, there is no record kept of the number of fees that are waived. Given the number of accounts that are automatically penalised annually, it appears likely that the cash value of waived fees would also be a substantial figure. It also appears that the number of fines is not increasing. Despite rises in student numbers – in 2012/13, for example, the total amount raised from fines was a whopping £57 462 – nearly double that of the total of 2015/16. It is also worth noting that while the overall aggregate sum that the library receives from fines is large, the average student only paid £12.75 last year.
A University spokesperson commented: “The flexible loans model was developed in collaboration with students who felt it appropriate to have some penalties in place to encourage return of items in high demand. Fines are imposed on overdue Key Texts and laptop loans, as competition for these resources is naturally high, and on any flexible loan items which have been reserved by another customer which are not returned when requested.
“The level of fines incurred is dependent on the behaviour of the community. Where customers have any problems in returning items they are asked to get in touch with us so we can see how we might help. Fines income also includes money paid for lost books. Fines income goes directly into the budget for library collections, so helps us to purchase more books.”
Over the past 12 months charitable contributions have been made to Book Aid International, MIND, YuCycle among others. The fine income has dropped from £57 642 (2012/13) since the flexible loans model was introduced and we keep the model under constant review to ensure it remains fit for purpose for our users.”