Should FE libraries continue to charge fines for overdue items?
Posted by andrewey on August 25, 2008
A recent article in the Guardian; ‘Noisy row breaks out in libraries over fines‘, 15 August 2008, commented on the current debate in public libraries about whether or not services should continue to impose fines on late returns. In academic libraries the culture of imposing fines seem even more entrenched, and at much higher monetary levels, than in public libraries.
However, the feedback we were getting at Coleg Llandrillo, from tutors and learners, was that fines were counter productive with either students failing to return items because they feared having to pay large fines or simply not borrowing in the first place for fear of incurring such fines. Furthermore, fines appeared to be the most common cause of confrontation between library users and library staff – often over trivial sums of money. Moreover, there seemed to a be a social inclusion argument in that charging fines may put off disadvantaged learners from borrowing more so than learners from more affluent backgrounds. Consequently, we stopped charging fines over two years ago, issue figures have gone up (at a time when many colleges are seeing a decrease) yet the rate of non-returned items is certainly no worse than when we charged fines.
Interestingly the debate reflected in the Guardian article centers around fines as an important source of library income yet in an ideal world there would be no fines income as items would all be returned on time – therefore this implies that the function of fines is punitive (and designed to raise revenue) rather than as a means of ensuring items are returned on time (which of course fines do not).
Incidentally our solution to the issue raised in the article about items never having to be returned is that we do invoice borrowers for their replacement cost after a certain period of non-return (as was also the case when we charged fines).