THOUSANDS of books have been lost from Portsmouth’s libraries – with £40,000 in fines also going unpaid.
Figures uncovered by The News show that 21,000 items – including books, DVDs and cassettes – have disappeared from the shelves.
This has cost taxpayers more than £231,000.
Lindy Elliott, library services manager at the city council, said: ‘Most people most of the time are bringing back the books – this figure represents quite a small proportion.
‘But we do need to get that stock back as it belongs to the taxpayers and is funded by the council.
‘We used to knock on people’s doors, but more often than not, people were not at that address, so it was not effective. People move and we lose contact with them.’
Each year 900,000 items are checked out from the city’s nine libraries. For each item overdue, 12p is charged, up to £6.
Portsmouth City Council said one reason for the outstanding fines is because people are too embarrassed to pay them back.
It now hopes a new self-service system will encourage more people to return books and pay fines.
The council has spent £440,000 on Radio Frequency Identification, which sees a microchip attached to all items in the library – with people able to pay fines using the machines.
Library chief Cllr Lee Hunt said: ‘It is shocking to see the figure. One of the reasons why people don’t go back to pay their fine is because they are too embarrassed. Coming in and dealing with someone face-to-face can be off-putting.
‘That’s why we’re hoping our new self-service checkouts, which will allow people to pay fines, will make a big difference.’
The figures – released under the Freedom of Information Act – were described as ‘staggering’ by Cllr Alistair Thompson, deputy leader of the Conservative group in Portsmouth.
‘It shows the council is not running the library service well,’ he said. ‘There has been a reduction in staff and opening hours already, so the council simply cannot afford to write off these lost books and fines.
‘When people are losing their jobs it is unacceptable to have that much money left unpaid. That money could prevent £41,000 of cutbacks that is being carried out to balance the books. It’s not justifiable to say it’s because people are embarrassed.’
Having a fine does not prevent users from borrowing other material. But those who have been issued an invoice for not returning items or who have built up a large amount in fines can be stopped. There are currently 15,654 people barred from borrowing items.