LIBRARY user Josh Paul Lugembe is bemused about a new 50p charge to use the electricity sockets at Central Library – which Swindon Council says aims to tackle crime.

Last month, plastic covers were installed over the twin wall sockets on all floors of the library, in Regent Circus, each bearing a sticker asking those wishing to charge a laptop or phone to pay 50p at the desk.

After being given a receipt to use the service for the day, a staff member then uses a plastic key to unlock the cover, which folds back to enable devices to be plugged in.

Afterwards, the user should clip the cover back into place.

Josh, 30, a freelance copywriter who uses the library for reference materials, says the library staff claimed the move aimed to tackle “crime rates” but did not explain the nature of the socket-related crime, and he suspects the charge simply aims to raise money.

He says there are better ways to cut crime or raise income, and fears the levy could deter students and other unemployed people from using the library regularly, adding that he has already seen one man pack up his laptop and go after learning of the charge.

He said: “If they aren’t working, 50p is going to be a great deal for them.

“These people shouldn’t be deterred from using libraries just for 50p.

“It’s a public library. Everyone should be able to go in and use their sockets.

“If they tell us ‘we want to increase our income of libraries’, that’s a better reason than saying ‘we are deterring crime’.

“Crime in a library? I find it very hard to believe that a library is a place people come to commit crime. And what sort of crime?”

Josh, a father-of-three, who lives in Okus Road, said he thought the scheme might be linked to the introduction of wi-fi in the library earlier this year, and feared the introduction of other petty charges.

He said: “The sockets were there originally and there was no introduction of 50p until they introduced the wi-fi, so are they trying to catch up with the costs for the wi-fi or their payments for the wi-fi?”

He said he wanted to see before and after crime statistics to assess whether the scheme is working, adding: “Now, because it’s three weeks almost, on Monday it’s going to be the fourth week, it’s a good time to check it out.”

A Swindon Council spokesman said: “We have been forced to charge for the use of sockets in the Central Library because after we introduced free wi-fi, a number of people started to come into the library to use the sockets to charge their phones and laptops, became bored while they waited, and caused significant and regular disruption.

“Staff and library users have been abused and threatened, and furniture and fittings have been damaged.

“We know that charging for the sockets will also affect library users who just want to use the library to study and learn, but we had to introduce a deterrent to those who were intent on causing trouble. It has had a positive effect, and the problems have reduced considerably.

Wi-fi access is still free in the library and if users have a device with a well-charged battery, they can use it anywhere they like without the need for a socket.

“It’s theoretically true that people could pay the 50p and still cause trouble, but by and large they haven’t.”

Library staff record all incidents, and for the three months of January, February and March there were 38 incidents which can be attributed to the presence of people in the library who were only there for phone charging, which is an average of just under 13 per month. Since April 15, there have been four incidents.”

The council bought 60 socket covers at £5.60 each – a total of £336.