Using the library is a great way to access books for free at uni – but only if you avoid getting fined for late or lost books. Here are some handy tips to help you stay clear of these debts.

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Library fines should always be avoided. Not only are they a drain on your finances, but you may find that you're not able to borrow or renew any more books until you pay the fines. This would be very inconvenient if you're doing some last-minute revision and urgently need a book from the library.

The cost of library fines will vary from uni to uni, but as a general rule, you could be asked to pay around 20p per day for the period that a book's overdue. This might not sound like much, but it quickly adds up (especially if there are multiple books that you need to return).

However, the good news is that library fines are easily avoidable, as these six tips show…

How to avoid library fines

Here are the best ways to avoid having to pay a library fine:

  1. Keep track of your library books' due dates

    Access to the library is easily one of the best free things you can get from university. But, it's only free as long as you return all of your books on time.

    To avoid facing any late fees, it's a good idea to find a system that helps you stay on top of the books you've taken out, making a note of when they're all due.

    The easiest way to do this is probably to set reminders on your phone for each book's due date. Ideally, you should aim to set the reminder for a day or two in advance in case it comes to the day it's due and you haven't got time to go to the library.

    Alternatively, you could keep a spreadsheet with all of the due dates. Or, if you have a whiteboard or noticeboard (you can usually find them in Wilko), this is also a great way to list down the dates your library books are due to be returned – just make sure you're in the habit of checking it regularly.

  2. Study in the library

    man taking book off shelf

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    You don't necessarily need to take books out of the library to use them. If you stay in the library and only read the books while you're there, you can avoid the risk of taking them home and forgetting to return them.

    You may find there are times when you do need to take a book out, such as if you've got an essay due the next day and want to keep reading it after the library closes.

    But, if you aim to stay in the library to study as much as you can, you should generally be able to avoid the risk of fines.

  3. Don't lend out library books to friends

    Even though it might seem like a nice thing to do, it's really important not to lend your library books out to your friends. As they're taken out under your name, the books are your responsibility to look after.

    If your friend is late returning the book to you (or, worse still, they lose the book) you'll have to face the cost. Although you might hope that they'd pay you to cover the library fine, this isn't guaranteed and it could lead to a pretty awkward conversation to ask for the money back.

    As well as this, you also shouldn't lend out your library card to anyone else, for the same reason that whatever is taken out from the library under your name is your responsibility.

    In fact, you might even find that it's in the library's policy that you can't lend books and library cards out to others.

  4. Use free online resources

    woman using laptop

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    To access books for free outside of library hours, have a look online. You might be able to find some of the texts you need on Google Scholar.

    Although, if you've read some parts of a book in the library and other parts online, be careful with essay referencing in case the edition you find online is different to the one you read in person. For example, the page numbers might be different in the online version, in which case your citations throughout the essay won't match up.

    You can also read academic journals on sites like JSTOR (one of the most useful websites for students). These journals can help massively with essays and assignments and should be free for you to read from home. If you're unsure if you have free access to JSTOR or a similar site through your uni, contact your tutor or student services to find out.

  5. Offer to replace lost library books

    You should always try your best to look after library books. But, if you do lose any, contact the library as soon as you can to let them know. The longer you wait to tell them and get it sorted, the more you might need to pay.

    When reporting it as lost, it's worth offering to buy a replacement copy. This could save you money if you're able to find one that's in good condition and costs less than the library's replacement fee (check with the library how much the full fee would be if you're unsure).

    You may still need to pay an admin fee after replacing the library's copy, but it's a charge you'd likely have to pay regardless of whether you find a replacement copy or not. The only difference would be that if you bought a new book for the library, you should be able to avoid paying a replacement fee on top of it.

    Of course, you'll save more money if you find the library book and avoid the need to replace it, so try to be as thorough as you can when looking for it.

  6. Buy books you need

    When it comes to books that are essential for your course, you may find you'll need them for longer than the library's standard borrowing period. You can usually renew books when they're approaching their return date – on the condition that no one else has requested them.

    To avoid the risk of using a library book and needing to return it before you're ready, you could consider buying a copy of it instead. This takes away the pressure of having a time limit on how long you can hold onto it.

    It can also help to buy books if you find it difficult to keep track of things like deadlines and due dates – owning the books gives you one less thing to worry about.

    To find the best deals on books, have a read of our guide to saving money on textbooks.

    Then, when you no longer need them, you can make a fair bit of money back by selling the books online.

Access to the library is just one of many great things you can get for free from uni.

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