CHILDREN are to be fined if they fail to bring back their library books on time.
From Monday, children of all ages using Hampshire County Council libraries will be charged up to 5p per overdue item per day.
The council says there are currently 33,000 overdue children’s books and the move will help reduce the number.
But it will make Hampshire one of the only authorities on the south coast to fine youngsters.
It had been planned that the fines would apply only to children aged from five to 17.
But the council decided there should be no minimum age limit and that the fines would be issued to toddlers and newborn babies.
Teachers and youth leaders have criticised the new fees, which are being revived after being scrapped five years ago.
Colin Harris, head of Warren Park Primary in Leigh Park, said: ‘It’s counterproductive when we’re trying to encourage more children to go to libraries. Fines could create a fear of going to the library. If there are thousands of children’s books in people’s homes, I think that’s where they belong. Schools are doing everything we can to ensure more books are in children’s homes.’
The council is also introducing charges for overdue items at mobile libraries. Children will be charged 5p per item per day and adults 15p.
Other levies include 10p for reserving children’s books, and annual fees for book clubs.
The authority hopes the measures can help it raise £374,000 per year, compared to the £344,000 income from reservations, fees and fines it took last year.
Councillor Keith Chapman, who is in charge of culture issues, said: ‘The new charges will enable us to ensure as many books as possible are available, and make sure our charges keep up with our costs.’
But Elyse Scott, 39, of Copse Lane, Bridgemary, who uses Gosport Discovery Centre with her daughter Grace, five, said: ‘I understand libraries are strapped for cash and need to make money but I’m not sure fining children is the best way.
‘Reading at a young age is incredibly important. I worry the fines will put off some of the most disadvantaged families who benefit most from libraries.’
Ben Dowling, 17, a Havant College student who chairs Portsmouth’s Youth Parliament, added: ‘Considering the government is currently trying to raise literacy levels of younger children it doesn’t seem a great idea.
‘It will deter children from going into libraries for fear of a financial penalty just because they have taken a bit longer to read a book or because they’ve forgotten to return their books because of school or other commitments.’