There has been a debate going on about charging fines for overdue books (mainly for public libraries) on the lis-pub-libs mailing list and the letter pages of Update. The main issues are does charging fines for returning books late put people off from using libraries and does it create the wrong image for libraries? Others argue that you need a incentive to get people to return books and that libraries depend on the income raised.
SINTO publishes the annual survey Fines & Charges in Public Libraries in England & Wales, and the following figures may be of interest.
Fines for overdue adult books appear to be universal with no authority reporting that they do not charge for overdue books. Fines range from 7p to 25p per day. The median is 14p and the mode is 15p. (Some authorities charge per week and the lowest rate is 30p per week). Maximum total fines charged range from £2 to £20 (Median and mode £5) with a single outlier of 75p, but many authorities have not provided a maximum charge figure. The authorities with the lowest daily charge are St Helens, Methyr Tydfil and Hartlepool, while Rhondda Cynon Taff and Vale of Glamorgan charge 30p per week. The highest charges are levied by Westminster City and Lambeth. All authorities have exemptions or reductions for various.
I think that we shouldn't represent these charges as "fines" for breaking the library rules but rather as the fee for borrowing books which we generously waive if the book is returned within a set period. This is a much better marketing ploy but of course it contadicts the basic principle of a free library service - even if we are not making any actual change in what we charge.
The figures also show that we don't have a national library service. The amount you could be asked to pay for an overdue item could vary by 2000% depending on where you live - a post-code lottery!