A report proposing the withdrawal of charges for computer access in libraries will be discussed at the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee meeting next week (Tuesday 12 March).
Over 68% of the population in the county is a member of Cambridgeshire Libraries and the Council is committed to protect and invest in its libraries, which local people love and need. Unlike in other areas of the country, Cambridgeshire County Council is increasing its library offer, opening new buildings and providing more services at the heart of communities.
The £1 charge for computer access, introduced in May 2018, was part of a package of measures based on public feedback and trialled to ensure computers are available for those who most need them and to generate more income for the library service to ensure they remain financially sustainable for the future.
In September 2018, Members reviewed progress on these measures, including the charge for computer access, and asked officers to continue monitoring computer usage and bring back a detailed report on the charge and its impact to address their specific concerns.
The recommendation to withdraw the computer charge comes in response to this review, as well as feedback collected in a customer survey and a detailed analysis of the anticipated income.
If this proposal is agreed, computers will be free for all to use all the time from 1st April and the library service will look at how to manage demand for computers so they are available for those who most need them. Furthermore, an upgrade of the 330 library computers is set to be rolled out later this year to improve the service for all.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s Chair of the Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Mathew Shuter said: “The decision to introduce a charge for computer access was not taken lightly but we have to look at all avenues to ensure fair access to our limited resources as well as to generate more income.
“This was a difficult decision to make and exactly why we asked officers to review this change by asking for a more detailed analysis of the data. It is encouraging to see people continue to use computers in libraries for a shorter time, leaving the machines for those who most need it, which was one of the main reasons for the charge in the first place.
“However, we are listening to residents and customers with the feedback we’ve received which leads us to suggest withdrawing the charge altogether and seek other ways to prioritise access and generate income.
“We will continue to ensure our libraries are at the heart of our communities and will now look at other approaches to secure their long term financial sustainability.”