It is hard to overstate the importance of reading at a young age. It’s why there has been such a drive to encourage more children to go to libraries, or rebranded ‘discovery centres’, to experience the enjoyment and education offered by books.
So why is Hampshire County Council going to start fining children for having overdue library books? The concern has to be that it may deter them and their parents from using the service.
As Colin Harris, head of Warren Park Primary School in Leigh Park, says: ‘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.’
We recognise it is important for children to respect any library’s rules on borrowing. There is a wider lesson in life here about not flouting regulations.
We also accept that 33,000 overdue children’s books in the county is a high figure and that the council is right to look at ways of retrieving them and preventing people from hanging on to so many of them in future.
But is fining the best way forward? From Monday the county council is introducing fines of 5p per overdue book, per day, up to a maximum of 40p per book, for all children up to 17.
That’s all very well if the children concerned are old enough to understand about return dates and have money to pay the fines. But in many cases, we think that the responsibility will fall to parents.
One aspect of the council’s plan of particular concern is a 10p charge for every children’s book that is reserved.
Of course libraries can’t hope to have every book requested on their shelves and that’s why there’s a system whereby books can be accessed from other libraries. But children shouldn’t be penalised simply for wanting a book that is held elsewhere.
Instead of fines and levies, what about a scheme whereby children who don’t get their books back on time are only allowed to take out a reduced number next time? This would teach them that ignoring or forgetting the rules attracts a penalty, but would still mean they had free access to books.