It’s time to reform the University’s library fine system

Since 2010, Cardiff University has charged a staggering £1,472,692 in library fines. Whilst the amount actually collected stands closer to £800,000, this remains an obscene amount of money that seems to hit students far more than it benefits the University.

Speaking as a disgruntled second year, I have helped more than most to swell the library coffers with my hard loaned cash. Nevertheless, this piece will be the epitome of journalistic objectivity. (For the most part).

Librarians are nice people, always happy to help whatever the issue, be it assisting the distressed disoriented fresher attempting to scale the electronic gate or sympathising with a third year who has just deleted their dissertation. They obviously don’t set out to cause students harm. The reason why the fines haven’t been collected in their entirety is because of librarians taking pity on students and taking into account extenuating circumstances or hysterical tantrums.

Library fines are undoubtedly a necessity for ensuring the smooth running of any library and enforcing considerate library etiquette. On numerous occasions I have wished Game of Thrones style torture on people who have kept books that I have reserved days past the deadline. Shame on them! Punishments are needed and by far the most effective way to keep students in line is to hit their nearly empty pockets. Furthermore, I haven’t even mentioned yet that the only person responsible for ensuring punctual return of books is the student.

Having said this, I think the amount the Library charges is too much. Worse than this is how fines can accumulate at rapid pace, particularly when you have many books out at any one time. One day loans for example set you back a pound for everyday they are overdue. Having a few of these out simultaneously plus ordinary books can mean a hefty penalty should you take your eye off the ball for a few days.

It must be said that keeping track of library book deadlines isn’t that high on the average student’s list of priorities. Circumstances arise that make you forget all about due dates – for example, I myself have been known to be out of action for up to two days following a football social. Fines should be in place, but the severity should be considerably reduced

I also think the University should be attempting to implement a more effective reminding system. At present, an email is sent to a student’s university account, but only after they have exceeded the due date. In these days of technological wonderment it is hardly beyond feasible to develop an app that sends you ‘push notifications’ the day before a book is due. A student is far more likely to check their phone regularly than their university email account.

You could even include the capability to renew in the app itself, making the whole process far more straightforward. Alternatively, students regularly receive texts notifying them when a lecture has been cancelled, this service could simply be expanded to cover looming due dates. However call me cynical but I can’t see the University rushing to implement any system like this.

It’s not just the severity of the fines that I object to, but also what actually happens to our sorely missed money. At present, the money serves no real purpose and is swallowed up in the excitably titled ‘Information Services budget’. Ostensibly this means that our fines contribute to the everyday administrative and operational cost of running the university.

Given the millions ploughed into redevelopment and building works across the campus it is clear that the University is not short of a bob or two. If Information Services were to no longer receive this money, I doubt it would be affected in the slightest. I have a strong suspicion that this money is just surplus cash that the University is throwing at boring procedures because they don’t really know what to do with it.

I for one would be less inclined to wake up in a cold sweat if I knew that the fines I had paid were going to something more meaningful. Perhaps a naïve suggestion but even just part of the money could go to charity that helps underprivileged children learn to read. Some of the money could even help develop a real life ‘Rememberall’, which would be invaluable for students and also tremendous for a game of catch.

You obviously can’t have a library without fines. There would be anarchy! Barricades reminiscent of the French Revolution would be erected inside the ASSL with students desperately clinging to their overdue books. Librarians would look on in horror, helpless, with no sanctions available to facilitate the return of the books. Yet, fines are hitting students far more than is necessary and the money collected doesn’t even serve a significant purpose. A balance needs to be struck.

Matthew Hale