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Figures released to Salient under the Official Information Act show that over 80 per cent of all Victoria University library fines generated in 2014 were waived.
Last year the library issued $216,836 in fines and of these $176,533 in “system-generated fines” were waived.
The University maintained that this return didn’t make the system ineffectual, but noted that the library is currently “reviewing grace periods” (where items are technically overdue but no fine charged) and standardising borrowing policies.
The library’s system automatically generates fines at “lost item replacement value” for material that is “well overdue”. For example, students are charged $80 per “well overdue” item. If the item is returned then that fine is waived. Fines can also be waived, or partially waived, at the discretion of the library staff.
A spokesperson for the library said the purpose of fines is to “encourage clients to return or renew material in a timely fashion, so that everyone is able to use the collections”.
We spoke to some rebellious students who have had frequent fines throughout their study.
Former Vic student Thomas said the library “seem quite happy to accept any excuse” to waive fees, and the most he ever paid in fines was $20.
Jessie, a postgrad student, has owed an average of $80 for much of the past two years. She said she pays her fines if they mean she can’t borrow anymore, but “as I long as I can still use the library I just tend to ignore them”.
She said “fines are really frustrating as a postgrad because often you’re using books you know no one else wants” but she admits the fines did push her to “actually take the books back”.
Another postgrad, Joe, has also owed over $80 since he started at Vic, most often “through wilful ignorance”. He said “since most of the things I’ve had out are relatively obscure, I don’t understand what the rush is.”
The University assured Salient that “most students are generally polite” when it comes to fines. The University aims “to be as flexible as possible” when it comes to paying off fines and can work with Student Finance if hardship is an issue.
Students with outstanding fines are not able to graduate. Last year, the total amount paid in library fines was $40,303—that’s 62,973 packets of Mi Goreng noodles, or enough to pay for a 4cm extension to the Wellington airport runway.