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Use of computers in Cambridgeshire libraries has more than halved since charges were introduced

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Charging for using computers in libraries has been criticised as “false economy” as it emerges relatively little has been raised from the scheme which has seen user numbers plummet by more than 50 per cent.

Charging for computer time in Cambridgeshire libraries has only raised a projected £16,000 in a year out of a forecast £108,000 and usage has more than halved since charges were introduced.

Charging for computer access was introduced on May 1, 2018. A charge of £1 per hour is made after an initial 30 minutes that is free for all users. Children up to 18 years of age continue to access the library computers free of charge.

A report detailing the findings went before Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday (11).

Since charges were brought in there has been a 53.71 per cent drop off in people using the library computer service. A council spokesman said anecdotal evidence suggested those no longer using computers had only been using them for Facebook or films anyway. She also said more people were making use of the free 30 minutes before switching off.

Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha said the argument for keeping the charges was “weak” especially given the “minute” amount of money they had generated.

Coun Nethsingha said using computers for social media should not be dismissed, as it is vital for many people struggling with isolation.

“Facebook and other access to social media can be important in tackling social isolation,” said Coun Nethsingha. “If people can’t keep in touch with friends and family as a result of charges that is sad and also short-sighted. Isolation leads to poor health.”

Councillor Lorna Dupre said charging for computer access is a “false economy” and that losing so many users to only raise a small amount of money is not worth it.

Councillor Mathew Shuter, committee chairman, said he was concerned that the scheme had raised so little money, but said it was too early to consider removing the charges. Coun Shuter said one of the objectives of introducing the charges had been to make sure more computers were available for people who really needed the service. He said, in this respect, the charges had been successful.

Councillor Simon King said he doesn’t like libraries. He said they are “outdated” and the preserve of the “elderly liberal classes”.

Coun King’s colleagues disagreed. Councillors Noel Kavanagh and Mark Howell spoke up in favour of library services, saying libraries are full of children and “mischief makers” and are vibrant, thriving places at the “centre of communities”.

A motion put by Coun Dupre to remove the charges was voted down. The plans, however will be brought back to the committee in six months’ time when more data on the effects of the charges can be available.

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