A fine time to be an Oxford University Librarian

Data received via a Freedom of Information request has revealed that Oxford University received £127,573 in library fines from Bodleian libraries during the 2012/13 academic year. This was up from £126,063 the previous year, but down from the £128,187 taken in 2010/11.

The largest contributor to this sum was the Social Sciences Library, which accumulated £34,098 in fines, more than twice as much as its closest rival, the History Faculty Library on £15,956. The Social Sciences Library’s high rate of fines has been blamed by students on the number of short-term loans the library offers. The Social Sciences Library topped the rankings for all three years for which data has been received, and currently leads the way in 2013/14 on £6,830 (as of 31st December).

The Latin American Centre was the least punitive library in 2012/13, taking only £214 in fines, though in 2011/12 it was pipped by the OUDCE Library with a mere £136 in fines. So far in 2013/14, the Law Library and the Oriental Institute Library have taken just £10 a piece, though current figures are likely to change radically when students rush to pay off fines at the end of the year. One of the university’s graduation requirements requires students to have no outstanding Bodleian libraries fines.

The practice of fining has not been without controversy. Nathan Akehurst, who ran for OUSU President in 2013 on the Reclaim OUSU slate, has strongly condemned financial penalties. On the subject of these library fines, Akehurst told Cherwell, “I recognise that incentivising the swift return of books is important for students, but I don’t feel overly punitive fines help that end, and as with all fines, impact disproportionately upon poorer students whilst providing those who can afford it a licence to do what they like.”

According to a university statement, the money accumulated from these library fines “goes into the general library income stream… It remains within the libraries but is not directly allocated to any particular purpose.”

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OUSU President Tom Rutland told Cherwell, “When some major faculty libraries are only open for 5 and half days a week, it is concerning that the university is making so much money from students who give books back late. Perhaps the money made from library fines could go towards better opening hours. After being instigated by NUS to investigate academic sanctions (e.g. the withholding of a degree) for non-academic debt (i.e. debt not related to tuition fees, such as library fines) the Office for Fair Trading has declared that universities that do this may be breaching consumer law.”

Second year PPEist Will Boardman commented, “It is disgraceful that a set of institutions designed with the purpose to facilitate the broadening of young people’s understanding and knowledge leverage their monopoly in such a way to penalise already cost stricken students.”

However, Tosh Oyerinde, an American visiting student, suggested, “It’s fine for the libraries to charge and collect fines because everyone is aware of the policies.

“What I think would be more interesting to see is how they spend it.”
Another student said, “Libraries have got to incentivise returning books on time somehow, or else people who really need books would not be able to get them”

A New College fresher remarked, “The total is surprisingly high, but in terms of individual fines I think it’s fair enough – it’s easy to renew books and they do tell you if you’re about to be fined, so as long as the money is used for something reasonable (like buying more books) I’m not too bothered.”

There may be a relation between students’ opinions on library fines and their history of racking up fines. One student told Cherwell, “As someone who has racked up £50 in library fines and who refuses to pay them, so is unable to borrow books from the Rad Cam, I feel I may be somewhat biased.”