In common with a lot of other people I learned today that Barking and Dagenham library service is charging its members to use the Internet. Apparently from today it will cost residents £12 a year, and non-residents £25 a year. However, that's the yearly charge, and there is an extra charge if usage is over two hours a day, charged at £1 an hour. Guests can use the computers for £1 for 30 minutes (although they helpfully say it's £2 for 1 hour - thanks, I think we can work that out ourselves!) If residents are under 20 or over 60 usage is free. Why under 20 and over 60 I have absolutely no idea, it's a strange, oddly arbitrary figure to pick if you ask me. I think that wi-fi is free (though make sure you have a charged battery, since power sockets seem hard to come by) but this isn't entirely crystal clear.
Depressingly they state on their website "Our computers are designed to allow customers to do things for themselves and to assist in lifelong learning." But only if you can afford to pay for it, it seems. This is just plain WRONG. A library should be a place where people can go in order to find out the information that they need - and you don't need me to tell you that it's very often not contained in books now, so the net is the only possible approach. There are still way too many people in the country who do not have access to a computer at home, and these are often the people who simply cannot afford even £1 a month. The internet isn't like a CD or a DVD, which is primarily for entertainment.
I checked a few library sites (library site:.uk internet ~charge) and found that the majority of libraries make no charge at all. Some charge after the first hour (such as Doncaster) and others provide some free access. Northamptonshire for example offers free broadband on Fridays, although charges a pretty painful £3 a hour on other days.
Perhaps I am naive in assuming that libraries would support their communities, particularly the most hardest hit by putting as few barriers in their way as possible. This does exactly the opposite. This doesn't encourage, it deters. This doesn't make the library a welcoming place to be, it turns it into something akin to a Internet coffee shop. This doesn't help, it hinders. It is wrong, wrong WRONG.