Northern Ireland library users rack up fines of £329k in just three years for overdue books
Libraries in Northern Ireland have fined people more than £300,000 for failing to return overdue books and other items in the past three years.
Almost a third of that - just over £90,000 - has yet to be recouped, figures reveal.
Libraries NI runs 96 libraries and said it has introduced measures to encourage customers to return books and other items, rather than pay fines.
Total overdue book fines in Northern Ireland amounted to £329,350 since 2016, according to the response to a Freedom of Information request.
But these have fallen year on year - from £117,900 in 2016/17 to £106,954 the following year and £104,496 in 2018/19.
And not all library fines are handed out for book borrowing.
Some £27,540 in penalties were levied for "unknown item types" including audio books and CDs/DVDs since 2016.
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Belfast Central Library has charged £16,499 to borrowers since 2016.
Omagh Library levied the second highest number of book fines - £12,650 in the past three years, followed closely by Derry Central Library's total of £12,056.
In total, Northern Ireland libraries have yet to recoup £90,473 for long-standing fines - some of them dating back three years.
Currently borrowers face a 10p per day fee for overdue items, although this fee does not apply to children. The maximum charge per item is £5.
If the borrower does not return their items, after 12 weeks their account is suspended until they are returned or, if lost, the replacement cost for the item is paid.
Similarly, if the value of charges reaches £10, the borrower account is suspended until the outstanding charge is reduced to below £10.
Libraries NI says it has taken steps to encourage customers to return items rather than incur a fine, including providing a text or email alert service shortly before a book is due to be returned.
A spokesperson for Libraries NI said: "Borrowers who receive correspondence from Libraries NI either by text or email will be notified three days prior to the return date for their loans.
"This notification will remind the borrower of the date the items are due back and inform them that they can request an extension of the loans period if required.
"Borrowers have the facility to view and renew their loans via the 'my account' section of the Libraries NI website.
"A further notification is sent to borrowers when the items become overdue."
Over the past year some councils in England have scrapped fines for overdue library books as part of a move to open up libraries to all.
Trafford Council in Greater Manchester became the first local authority to abolish the fines in April 2018, followed more recently by councils in Leeds and Liverpool. Before that, charges for under-16s were axed in Bolton in a bid to get more youngsters reading.
On January 1, 2019, Dublin City Council announced that its library members no longer had to pay fines for overdue items, and any existing fines were abolished.
Libraries NI said it is aware that some other library authorities have abolished fines and is keeping the situation under review.
The top 10 libraries for late returns
1. Belfast Central Library (right) - £16,499
2. Omagh Library - £12,650
3. Derry Central Library - £12,056
4. Lisburn City Library - £10,831
5. Ormeau Road Library - £9,123
6. Bangor Carnegie Library - £8,852
7. Glengormley Library - £8,198
8. Newry Library - £8,037
9. Ballymena Central Library - £7,400
10. Carrickfergus Library - £7,223