THE skeleton of Swindon’s libraries is going to be pulled apart if plans to slash their budget by £300,000 go ahead, according to a local action group.

Cabinet members gave the green light, on Wednesday night, for the council to launch a consultation with residents about a number of ways to claw back £300,000 from the library budget for 2014/15.

But Save Old Town Library, an action group led by Shirley Burnham said the libraries, which have already experienced year on year cuts, could not take any more reductions in funding - with a risk the whole service could fall apart.

Among the proposals is to streamline the management, to cut back on the number of programmes being hosted at the buildings, to reduce stock by £50,000 and to either close or lower the hours of smaller libraries.

“There is a range of options and it will depend on what people say they want to see happen,” said Councillor Keith Williams, cabinet member for highways, strategic transport and leisure.

“People don’t like libraries closing. We need to identify what works best. A library isn’t just books and shelves - we need to uncover what people think is the heart and soul in their library - do we save smaller libraries or run some of them centrally or hand them over for volunteers to run?

“An awful lot of people don’t go to libraries to read a book. Lots of people go for the IT equipment. We want to hear what people want from their service.”

He said a number of librarians were coming up to retirement age so one option would be not to replace them but allow volunteers to step in or streamline the service.
The mobile library service will need updating in a few years and Coun Williams said another suggestion would be to introduce smaller vehicles.

Mrs Burnham has been fighting to keep smaller libraries open in Swindon since 2007 and said every year she has had to return with her placards to lobby support for the service.

“Ever since I've taken an interest, libraries have been cut, and cut, and cut,” said Mrs Burnham.

“The savings involved have been minimal, but their impact on quality is great.

“Until councillors acquire a mindset that recognises libraries' value and protect this statutory service, residents will be forced to launch petitions and march about with banners again to make their voices heard."

The consultation is likely to be launched sometime in the coming months.