Redbridge Council will be temporarily offering a fines amnesty before passing over debt collection to an US company called Unique Management Services.  It’s the third council to pass on its debt list to them this year.  The scale of the problem of the non-collection of late fees and lost books is examined below, taken from this website’s page on saving money without closing libraries.
All library authorities have, theoretically, thousands of pounds owing to them from users due to late fees, lost items or even stolen books.  The scale of these losses  vary.  Reading has 2,400 long overdue books and  Northamptonshire 12,300.  In terms of money owed, it is normally over a hundred thousand pounds: Cumbria £170k, Surrey £700k, York £50k, Leicestershire £238k, Kent £100k, Bracknell £105k, Northern Ireland £160k,Redbridge £167,692Bradford £174k, and Brighton and Hove £175k. Essex retrieved £648k in late fees. Please note, though,  that the wide variety of thse figures indicates differing size of councils and different practice.  Some councils wipe (effectively waiving) records of lost items after x number of years, others use y number of years while others just don’t delete fines, ever.

So, what are the pros and cons of pursuing debt recovery in these financially stringent times?

Pro – (a) Getting all this money back would make a significant impact.  This is taken very seriously in the USA. An American library service uses a collection service that generates $9k per month.

Also, (b) it encourages others to return items on times and thus improve available stock.  It even (c) encourages people to come back to use the library as the fees charges are rarely as high as people fear (although, often, those with non-returned books worry so much about late items they keep them for years, or bin them, rather than owning up to the feared scary librarian who, in reality, would be just happy to see the item back). Finally, (d) breaking the law by stealing books is an offence and offenders should be punished. 

Con – (i) It could cost a fortune to fully recover fines/items because (ii) amounts owed to libraries tend to be quite small but very numerous.  The cost of recovering these debts can be similar to, or exceeding that, of the value of items returned.  Taking legal action against a member of the public for return of items is (iii) rife with danger as it could be seen as a waste of resources being the cost of legal action would almost certainly be more than the value of the items concerned (see this article about Bromley sending a letter asking for some books back from an eight-year old – this article was then taken up by the Telegraph the next day).  Being (iv) too stringent on chasing late items would also deter genuine users from the library service.  Generally, (v) British library services see owed fines as a standard part of the service, impossible to eradicate, that they will likely largely recover over the fullness of time.  Finally, (vi) one could fall foul of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act if one uses fines as a way to make money for the service rather simply as an incentive for returning material on time.  However, considering the recent poor enforcement of this Act, this is likely to be seen as only a minor problem by authorities.

Alternatively, a fines amnesty may be an effective (if counter-intuitive) way of saving money by getting items back that would otherwise stay lost forever.  I’ll close on this article with two statements from people pursuing this line, one in England and one in the USA:

“Assistant mayor Councillor Sarah Russell, who is responsible for libraries in the city, said: “A lot of time people are worried if a book has been damaged, or if they find it under a teenager’s bed when they move out of home – they decide to keep it rather than face the fines. “That’s why we hold amnesties every now and then, because it helps us as well as the library users. “It means we don’t have to spend money replacing missing items and we don’t have to spend energy chasing people up.” Leicestershire.

“You don’t want to penalize people for reading. Sometimes you’re really into a novel and it takes you a little longer to get through it. As it happens, you return a book two or three days late. It’s not a big deal. We can get over that,” Maghnieh said. “It’s a way of really rewarding our patrons for using the library.” Windsor Public Library, USA.


  • European librarians visit Birmingham’s £189m facility – BBC.  More than 250 senior librarians from Europe are gathering in Birmingham to discuss the future of library services. As well as meeting at the Town Hall, visitors will see progress on the £189m library being built in Centenary Square. The 10-storey development, which will have an outdoor amphitheatre, is due to open next year. The site will also include a theatre, recording studio and free access to the National Film Archive.”
  • Seven library services you might not know about – Matador life (USA).   Includes job hunting, finding a date, live music, storytelling, author feedback, legal advice, home energy audits.


Local News

“I know that some of the facts given in evidence, in oral form, were incorrect”. Keith says his resignation isn’t the end of this, “I don’t just want to resign and disappear in to the ether, I need to take this up.”

  • North Yorkshire – Milestone as libraries handed over to communities – Yorkshire Post.   “Councillors rubber-stamped final plans for the scheme this week, with the go-ahead being given for six community-run libraries in Ayton, Barlby, Bilton, Embsay, Gargrave, and Great Ayton, after volunteer groups presented detailed business plans demonstrating the feasibility of the scheme. However, Humnanby Library failed to produce a viable plan and the county council revealed the village, near Scarborough, which is one of the largest in England, would be served by a mobile library from April, although other options are currently being explored.”
    • “People power” helps ot keep village library open – Press.  “The final details of plans for the future of six libraries have now been approved. It means the library in Barlby will be run by the local parish council. It will be staffed by volunteers and will incorporate a meeting place, information and exhibition space and a parish office.”
  • Redbridge – Borough offers library fine amnesty – Guardian series.   “The borough’s libraries are owed a whopping £167,692 in fines. The figure was revealed on the day that an amnesty was announced in an attempt to persuade people to return some of the 27,846 books, DVDs and CDs which are currently overdue.”
  • Richmond – Library services in Richmond get £20kGuardian series.   “Library services have got a £20,000 boost thanks to Arts Council England. Richmond Council will use the money to take the lead on a partnership project with library and arts services in Kingston, Merton and Wandsworth. Richmond’s arts and library services will use funding to improve the quality and delivery of arts for adults and children with disabilities.”
  • Surrey – An appeal on behalf of libraries and librarians – SLAM.   “…we are now making this unashamed appeal for you to contribute to the “fighting fund”. We believe libraries and librarians are worth fighting for and have been working extremely hard to protect them and improve them. But we do need your help. It is wonderful and encouraging to have such high profile celebrity supporters such as Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed and Sue Perkins, but as you can see from our fundraising thermometer on the right of this page, we still need everybody’s help, including you!”
  • Swansea – Website winners put library top – This is South Wales.   “Clever use of websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube means Swansea Library Service has been named the best of its kind in Wales. Swansea Council’s Library Service came first in the social media category of the Welsh Libraries Marketing Innovation Awards 2012.”