THE cost of replacing unreturned library books is more than the amount needed to run an axed library for two years.

It would take £95,896.04 to replace overdue library books which have been loaned out from Dorset Libraries in the same amount of time.

But in 2009/10 and 2010/11 Portland Underhill library running costs were £23,033.10 and £25,808.27 respectively.

The shocking figures – revealed following a Freeedom of Information request by the Dorset Echo – are revealed as Portland Underhill library finally closed its doors to the public.

The Portland library loaned 6,722 items in 2010/11 – a 12 per cent decline on the previous year.

But more than 4,000 books were not returned to the county’s library service in 2011.

Last July, a proposal to withdraw funding to nine of the county’s libraries was passed to help reduce the library service’s budget by £800,000.

Business plans have now been approved for community groups to move forward in their bit to take over seven, but Portland Underhill is not one of them. It will be replaced by a mobile service.

Dorset County Council library service manager Tracy Long said: “In the previous two years, Dorset Library Service has issued 5,619,648 items. Over 99.8 per cent of these items are returned to libraries with a small percentage of items not returned.

“There is an overdue procedure in place to remind customers to return or renew their items.

“When items are very overdue and not returned, this could result in the withdrawal of an individual’s borrowing rights.

“A balance has to be drawn on securing the return of books against the costs of any additional and special measures to recover them. Options for a cost-effective process to recover the stock have been considered by the county council’s audit, legal and debt recovery services, and the current approach is considered to be appropriate.

“We would stress, however, that while these unreturned books have a value of £95,000, their return would not bring new money into the library service budget in order to keep libraries open.

“Portland Underhill, which is open for 12 hours per week, is the county council library which issues the lowest number of books and other items.

“While talks are taking place over the possible transfer of eight libraries to other communities in Dorset, there was no viable community approach or response regarding Portland Underhill.”

There are currently 148,111 Dorset Libraries card holders. Of these, 5,088 have outstanding items that were due back before 2012.

Mike Chaney, of the Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries, said: “In my experience, the council are quite good about making sure people pay their fines and return books, so in that respect I don’t know how they came by such a figure.”

More than 1,500 items outstanding

At the time the Echo received this information, 1,579 books were outstanding that were due for return in December 2011.

These are still subject to Dorset Libraries’ overdue process and a proportion of these were expected to come back over the coming weeks.

The cost of these unreturned items was £19,442.10 and is included in the total.

The daily charge for overdue books is 20p per day. Library card holders who owe £6 or more are unable to borrow further items until those outstanding are returned.

The maximum charge for overdue library books is £12.