Friday, 15 May 2009

Library fines still mounting

The University library continues to rake it in from slack borrowers and still tops the national table of fine collecting, Leeds Student has learnt.

In March we revealed how Leeds collected a staggering £360,000 from late returners in the academic year 07/08, about £12 for every student. Comparable nationwide data from a year earlier showed that Leeds beat closest rival Manchester to the top of the fines table by over £100,000. Manchester students would be handing over just £5 each on average.

We can now expose how the gap between the two table-topping unis last year grew to a whopping £160,000.

Claims that the cash flow from borrowers had fallen this year were met with sums that remained sky high, with a fall of just 9.5 per cent. The total fund from August to February still stood at a shocking £144,415, four times the amount fined by neighbouring uni Sheffield over the same period.

University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection Margaret Coutts defended the fees in our original investigation, saying that decisions made over fines were “student led”.

The original spike in fines from 06/07 to 07/08 was put down to a threshold rise, which allowed borrowers to obtain higher fines before having lending privileges removed.

“The threshold was originally introduced in consultation with students to prevent their borrowing being blocked too rapidly when using our self-service lending facilities in the evening,” Coutts said.

While the figures for the current year have dipped, they still represent a significant income from students who are already paying £3000 a year tuition fees with the results once more calling into question the fining system. While the Library maintains that “the sole purpose of Library fines is to prevent individuals from keeping books for unreasonably long periods and so disadvantage others who need to use them” the significant amounts repeatedly collected suggest the deterrent strategy is not working, with Leeds collecting far more than similar sized unis.

Leeds Student placed Freedom of Information requests with nearly all Russell Group universities, asking for the total amounts collected in fines by their libraries for 07/08 and for August 2008 to the current date. The responses saw Leeds clearly out in front.

For the academic year completed last summer Leeds received £359,229 in fines, followed by Manchester with £198,286.11. Nottingham, which houses the same number of students as Leeds collected just half as much in fines, with the total standing at £172,446. After this came Sheffield with £110,919; Liverpool received £106,059.93; Bristol collected £102,115; York took £99,331; and Birmingham claimed £98,357.93.

Leeds’ figures for the current year are equally as eye-opening. From August 08 to February 09 Leeds received £144,415 in library fines while from August 08 to March 09 Manchester collected £109,174.44 - 30 per cent less. Over the same period Nottingham took £74,893; Liverpool, £58,334.54; Bristol, £47,463; Birmingham, £47,115.84; York, £38,531; and Sheffield, £33,490.

The University of Southampton, the establishment Leeds University VC Michael Arthur attended as an undergraduate, failed to respond to the request and is now the subject of an internal review.

Originally published in Leeds Student on May 15 2009

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