Northern Ireland students fined £130k for late library books
Penalties an unnecessary burden, say campaigners
Students at Northern Ireland's two universities were fined almost £130,000 in the last two years because they did not return library books on time.
Penalties of up to £2.50 a day can be imposed if items are brought back late.
Student campaigners said it is an unnecessary financial burden and called for reform of the fines system.
Between 2017 and 2019, Queen's received £86,962 through library fines while Ulster University generated a further £39,239.
The figures were revealed after a Freedom of Information request.
Queen's has two libraries at its Belfast campus, while Ulster has four across its sites at Belfast, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Magee.
Penalties can mount up quickly with library fines at both third level institutions starting at 10p per day for standard loans. This can rise to £2.50 for a short-term (two day) loan.
During the 2017/18 academic year, the amount of money received by Queen's University for overdue items including books and DVDs totalled £46,323 - this related to 47,222 fines.
This fell to £40,639 in 2018/19 in relation to 37,407 items.
Queen's Students' Union president Connor Veighey says library fines place yet another unnecessary financial burden on students in a time when they are already being priced out of higher education.
Mr Veighey added: "They disincentivise continued use of library services, create a less comfortable study environment and at the end of the day it's dubious as to whether they even incentivise returns.
"Let's not forget that students already face heavy costs associated with education - tuition fees, resit exam fees, compulsory fees even for graduating.
"This is part of a wider culture of putting up more and more barriers to education when we should be taking them down, making education more attractive and boosting social mobility.
"Universities should conduct a scope of best practice and follow the lead of, for example, Sheffield University which scrapped fines and instead sensibly incentivises returns by restricting additional loans until the book is returned.
"This has created an atmosphere of trust, enhanced the student experience and most importantly improved students' financial wellbeing."
In response, QUB said: "The library imposes fines only because late return of books may impact negatively on the work of other students who are working to deadlines.
"The library has a responsibility to keep books in demand in circulation.
"We have a number of ways in which we make it easy for students to return items on time so that fines can be avoided.
"Receipts clearly highlighting due dates are issued and the library sends reminder notices before items are due for return.
"Alerts relating to fines are clearly visible on a student's library account and also when they log onto the university portal.
"Funds accrued from library fines are used to purchase stock and develop the library service."
Ulster University's income from library fines in 2018/19 was £18,182, a decrease from the £21,057 in the previous academic year.
For library fines accrued during 2018/19, UU said the amount currently unpaid is £18,972 while £12,930 is still outstanding from 2017/18.
Ulster University has said the money received through library fines is ring-fenced and used solely for the benefits of students.
A spokesperson said: "To reduce paper usage, we have seen an increase of e-book availability, which will continue to negate the need for library fines.
"In 2012/13, the library at Ulster received 842,035 e-book requests, compared to 2,258,137 in 2017/18 - which is almost three times the amount.
"This has consequentially seen a decrease in the amount of books loans: 359,205 in 2012/13, compared to 124,457 in 2017/18."
Andrew McAnallen, Ulster University's student president, added: "We continue to work in close partnership with the library at Ulster University, to ensure more sustainable and accessible library learning materials.
"Through our close work with the library, we've ensured monies accrued in library fines go back directly into improving the student experience - as seen in the recent £1.3m transformation of the library in our Magee campus.
"We will continue to work with Ulster University in increasing the e-book provision which will continue to directly affect fines students receive."