STUDENTS and staff at Sunderland and Durham Universities have racked up more than £1million in library fines and misplaced thousands of books, according to new figures.
An investigation into university libraries has found the two institutions to be among the worst in the country when it comes to keeping tabs on their tomes.
Sunderland University is fourth in the league table of shame when it comes to missing books, with 17,650 unaccounted for.
Durham University collected £1million in fines, putting it 10th in the country in terms of charges. Its fines range from 20p to £1 per day depending on which book is overdue.
The figures were revealed in Freedom of Information requests to all of Britain’s universities asking for details of the amount of fines issued, the total received and the number of books unaccounted for from their libraries for the six academic years from 2004/05.
A spokeswoman for the University of Sunderland said: “The university makes every effort to ensure the return of items borrowed from our libraries.
“The library has a number of processes in place to remind our users of the need to return items and contacts them directly and routinely to achieve this.”
On the issue of fines, the spokeswoman said: “Fines are only ever imposed when a book or other library loan item is not returned on time.
“This ensures that books and other materials are kept in circulation and made available to all our users. The library provides a variety of flexible ways for users to renew items including by phone, online, by mobile device and in person.”
But Robert Oliver, Conservative leader at Sunderland City Council, said: “The figures suggest that there is a problem at the University of Sunderland regarding unaccounted books which the current system is failing to deal with to the tune of more than 17,000 books.
“Universities are funded by the taxpayer and by students and, as such, must be accountable for how they spend public money on books ensuring that fines and library security systems work.”
The figures showed that top of the pile when it comes to fines was Leeds University, which has raised more than £1.8million in the last six years. Imperial College London was bottom, collecting just £26,703 in fines.
However, many are never returned at all as more than 300,000 books remain unaccounted for from universities across the country.
Number one was Bucks New University with 30,540, closely followed by Oxford University with 20,923 and the University of Kent with 19,613.
In total 101 universities responded to the request but many were unable to provide details of the amounts they fined students for returning books late.
University of Westminster said it does not fine students at all for returning library books late.
Instead of a financial penalty, students are banned from using the library for the length of time that corresponds with how late their books are.
Some may even be barred from graduating if they owe their university money.
As little as a £5 debt at Exeter University will prevent graduation, as will £20 at Lancaster University or £25 at the University of Glasgow.
Other universities said they would instruct debt collection agencies if the library debts were part of other larger debts owed, such as fees and accommodation.
Top 10 universities raising the most in library fines: University of Leeds – £1,869,340; University of Manchester – £1,299,342; University of Wolverhampton – £1,252,253; King’s College London – £1,197,715; University of Hertfordshire – £1,147,238; University of Birmingham – £1,114,863; University of Plymouth – £1,058,777; University of Nottingham – £1,025,560; Kingston University – £1,020,753; University of Durham – 1,005,426.
THE top 10 universities with the most unaccounted for library books: Bucks New University – 30,540; University of Oxford – 20,923; University of Kent – 19,613; University of Sunderland – 17,650; University of Teesside – 15,815; Brunel University – 10,992; London South Bank – 9,725; University of Greenwich – 8,580; Southampton Solent University – 6,126; University of Portsmouth – 5,357.