Library Fines – Time For Change? An Argument For and Against

Following recent figures obtained by UniEel, it has been revealed that huge spending has taken place at UK Universities in the form of library fines. In a study of 67 institutions, it was found that these Universities accumulated £2.3M in fines through overdue items. With the cost of education at an all-time high, it could be argued that the library fine system is out-dated, and in need of change. In this article, we take a look at both sides of the argument – and ask whether or not it is time to change the system.


University libraries have been collecting significant amounts from students



As UniEel’s findings have shown, the current system clearly isn’t working. Surely the point of a library fine is to act as a deterrent – and not a source of income. Yet in any other industry, when a deterrent clearly isn’t working, you would change it. Especially if another system e.g. a temporary banning system, works better. As we’ve mentioned in other articles, a £5 fine is very little after spending £9,000 on tuition fees. The system clearly isn’t working, and is merely now serving as an excuse to get more money out of students.


Furthermore – there is a better alternative, as we’ve alluded to. Five out of the 64 institutions we looked at don’t levy library fines. Instead, they use a very successful temporary banning system. A ban is more of a deterrent than a monetary fine. A fine is just something short-term – it has no ramifications. Yet a temporary ban leaves you in an awkward position when you need another book quickly. The University of Sheffield switched to the banning system a few years ago. They correctly suggested the library fine system ‘didn’t serve a useful purpose’.


A simple way to end this side of the argument – but this is an old-fashioned system that needs modernising. Around ten-fifteen years ago, when tuition fees were around £1,000 per year, a £5 fine is actually something worth avoiding. But when tuition fees have multiplied to £9,000, the fine suddenly is meaningless, it is worth paying the fine to get extra time with a book. Tuition fees have changed, so why shouldn’t the library fine too? It is time for the library fine to move with the times.





However it could be argued that many library services are made possible thanks to library fines. For instance, taking the worst offender – Oxford, £167,689 is a large amount. In the majority of cases, fines are reinvested into the library, creating jobs and allowing more library personnel. There is a great demand for 24-hour services at library’s in the United Kingdom, fines can help achieve this. Yet some would argue that a fraction of the £9,000 spent by each student would be more than enough to achieve this…


A more traditional argument could suggest that library fines teach students not to be selfish. It is very harsh on any student that has reserved a book to be denied access to said book. A fine teaches students to respect one another. Yet a counter-argument would be that given the circumstances (£9,000 a year tuition fee), a £5 fine is worthwhile. And ‘respect’ is hardly a word that can be used to describe the relationship between institution and student in this case.


And another good argument on this side is that student’s appear to be happy to spend their money on library fines. Why this is the case is unknown (probably the value for money argument), but perhaps it isn’t something we need to worry about. If students want to spend ridiculous sums, then why should we change it? And speaking honestly, who in the right mind would turn down the chance to make thousands of pounds if you can. Maybe there are more important issues in the higher education sector to address instead.


adult back view blur book
Photo by on



Two compelling arguments. But it really is clear that the system needs to change. Our findings border on the ridiculous – £2.2M collected in fines by just 64 institutions. Most of the arguments that supported the current fine system had contradictions. The argument that suggested change was needed featured some important points – including a better alternative, lack of logic behind the system and the need to modernise. These three points are hard to refute. Change is needed.





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