Students at Queen’s University were fined more than £50,000 in the last year because they didn’t return library books on time.
Penalties can mount up quickly at a cost of as much as £2.50 per day for overdue items on short term loan.
The university said the charge was applied to “encourage prompt returns”.
Queen’s also said renewals and requests were not possible because the books were in “heavy demand”.
During the 2016/17 academic year, the amount of money received by Queen’s University related to overdue items totalled £52,889.
The figures were revealed after a Freedom of Information request.
By comparison, Belfast Central Library, the city’s largest, has not reported income above £21,111 generated by fines from overdue items and room hire in recent years.
Queen’s Students’ Union president Stephen McCrystall described the sum as a “hefty amount of money” for students who are already experiencing a “big financial burden”.
He accused Queen’s of “going for the easy option” by imposing fines rather than exploring alternative options.
He suggested that this could include restricting access to the library until items are returned. “Fines are not really an appropriate way of putting sanctions on students,” he said.
“We have made the case in the past about the university exploring alternative options.
“It is clear that fines do not work. The only result is that students are out of pocket.”
He said it would be a “little” more understandable if the revenue generated by the fines was invested in the university’s library.
A university spokesperson stated that this is the case. The fine for the late return of “standard” books is 10p per day. It rises to 40p per day for standard book loans requested by another borrower, rising to a maximum charge of £2.50.
Students are advised that they will not be able to borrow if they have outstanding charges of £5 or more.
Borrowers who have very overdue items can be invoiced for their replacement cost. A spokesperson for Queen’s University Belfast said: “The library imposes fines only because late return of books may impact negatively on the work of other students who are working to deadlines.
“The library has a responsibility to keep books in demand in circulation.
“We have a number of ways in which we make it easy for students to return items on time so that fines can be avoided. Receipts clearly highlighting due dates are issued and the library sends reminder notices before items are due for return.
“Alerts relating to fines are clearly visible on a student’s library account and also when they log onto the university portal.
“Funds accrued from library fines are used to purchase stock and develop the library service.”