Libraries ‘should keep fine cash to balance the books’

LATE fees from library customers have earned the city nearly £400,000 in recent years, prompting calls for the cash to be ringfenced to help keep libraries open.

Overdue books, CDs and DVDs from public libraries have contributed £389,368 to city coffers since 2008 at a rate of 15p a day, with all fines diverted into a central council pot.

But as the city tightens its belt, most of the Capital’s libraries are due to see their opening hours slashed under changes unveiled by council chiefs in November last year.

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Today, Councillor Gordon Munro, culture and leisure spokesman for the Labour group, urged a rethink on how cash from library fines was distributed and called for the revenue to be ploughed back into the service rather than being redirected into other departments.

He said: “I think the money should go back into increasing the stock of libraries. One of the things libraries have lost out on is increased stock in terms of printed or recorded forms.”

In November, the News told how late opening hours on a Thursday evening would be axed, while the smallest libraries would only open five days a week under new cost-cutting measures which are part of a £550,000 saving due to be found this year.

However, Saturday opening hours will be extended across the board, with all libraries opening at 10am and closing at either 5pm for the larger ones or 4pm for smaller ones.

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A public consultation is under way on the measures, with any changes due to come into force shortly after the consultation period finishes at the end of the month.

Figures released under Freedom of Information laws show a year-on-year decline in the amount of money received by the council for overdue items: £137,653 in 2008-9, £129,819 in 2009-10 and £121,896 in 2010-11.

The Library Service Management System was unable to collate the total value of outstanding library fines across Edinburgh.

The service has some 175,000 members borrowing just under three million items per year from the city’s 26 libraries.

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Overdue fines are charged at 15p per day and the maximum fine that can be accrued per item is £10. Accumulated fines result in restrictions in borrowing and membership can be suspended.

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “It is encouraging to see that the amount Edinburgh residents pay in library fines is decreasing year on year. The introduction within the last three years of Edinburgh City Libraries online services and our free app allows people to keep track of their library record and renew more quickly and easily than ever before – helping them avoid paying fines for late returns.”

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city finance convener, added: “Edinburgh’s library service is a modern one which uses technology to enhance and extend the range and accessibility of services in a cost-effective way. Unlike the experience of some other cities, the city’s Lib Dem-led administration has invested in modernising some libraries and built several new ones, including at the Drumbrae Hub, which will open to the public later this month. This is a fine example of a 21st-century service geared to meet the needs of the local community.”