LIBRARY users across South Tyneside will soon be faced with charges for computer and internet services.
From July 1, a £10 annual fee will be introduced at libraries in the borough.
The charge – which includes discounts for students, the elderly, and the unemployed – has been introduced by cash-strapped South Tyneside Council, which must trim £35m from its budget this year.
A council spokesman said the move was “regrettable” but is essential to safeguarding the future of the services.
He said: “The council has had to make a number of tough decisions in order to make savings, whilst protecting frontline services.
“Although the introduction of a £10 annual fee is regrettable, the income will assist with maintaining services when the alternative would be closure or withdrawal of services.”
The council says the annual fee, which is the equivalent of 20p per week, will include discounts for some groups. The service will continue to be free for under 18s and over 60s, while students and jobless people will only pay £5 per year.
Computer services at the borough’s libraries are used daily, and are regarded as essential by unemployed people who need access to the internet to find jobs, and also to compile CVs and prepare job applications.
Students also rely on the services for coursework and research, while library computers are also used for internet banking and shopping.
An online campaign opposing the charges has been set up.
A Facebook group – South Tyneside Libraries Keep The Computers Free – already has 869 supporters.
The founder of the group, Andy Clifford, said: “This page is to tell South Tyneside Council that the plan to charge users for computer access is wrong. We don’t want to have to pay to access the internet. Not many other councils are planning this.”
The fee applies at each of the libraries where the People’s Network is installed, including South Shields Central Library and libraries in Hebburn, Jarrow, Cleadon Park, East Boldon, Boldon Lane, Primrose and Whitburn.
Similar charges for library computer services already apply in other parts of the country, including North Yorkshire, Nottingham and Milton Keynes.
In Milton Keynes, use of library computers is free for 30 minutes, with a charge of £1.20 per half hour thereafter.
In North Yorkshire, users are charged £1 per hour after an initial free 30 minutes.
In Nottingham, computers can be used free for one hour, before an hourly rate of £1 for further use.