Camden book fine dodgers could have bailed out a doomed library

Alan Templeton outside Swiss Cottage Library

Alan Templeton outside Swiss Cottage Library - Credit: Archant

Unpaid library fines have rocketed to more than £77,000 across Camden – just £10,000 short of what it costs to run one community library for a year.

A Freedom of Information request from the Ham&High found that overdue charges at all 10 Camden Council-run libraries have reached £77,114 in the last two years.

In comparison, the cost to community campaigners of running Keats Community Library in Hampstead for the year is £87,000, which includes a licence fee for renting the building from the City of London, new book purchases and some staffing costs.

Camden announced plans to close three of its libraries in 2011 following cuts to local authority budgets.

Three libraries – then called Heath Library, Belsize Library and Chalk Farm Library – were all handed over to voluntary groups to run in April 2012.

A breakdown of the overdue fines shows the highest overdue charges were at Swiss Cottage Library, where £18,955 is currently owed in unpaid fines.

The total number of overdue books at the top five issuing libraries between July 2011 and March 2013 was 4,484.

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Chairman of Camden Public Library User Group, Alan Templeton, said: “That money could keep a library open.

“The council has just closed Regent’s Park Library but that money could have kept it open for another year or maybe longer.

“Fines are a significant part of the income of the library service. For fines not to be collected is really a failure of management.”

He said library users should be stopped from borrowing books if they fail to pay their fines.

“If the council is so short of money and closing libraries, it can’t be lax in any areas,” he added.

“There should be a tight financial regime. We are in a time of austerity and that applies to the library service.”

Highgate Library, in Chester Road, which was on the brink of closure, was thrown a lifeline last November when it was given a two-year reprieve by Camden Council.

The Friends of Highgate Library said it would give them enough time to come up with a solution to keep the site sustainable in the long-term.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “We have 75,000 people borrowing and the amount owed through charges, of £77,114, averages out at about one pound per customer.

“We offer a wide programme of activities for the community at our libraries, and usage remains high.

‘‘Additionally, the council has supported the new community libraries with £342,000 funding to get them started.”