DOZENS of people gathered on the council chamber steps to protest against proposed changes to the library service ahead of a lively meeting on Thursday night.

Swindon Borough Council has said to balance the books, the fund will need to be reduced by almost 60 per cent in the coming years, meaning many will need to be run by volunteers.

Since the announcement was made, thousands of people have signed several petitions against the move, arguing libraries are too important not to fund.

In the meeting, Sarah Church, a former solider and head of Save Swindon Libraries made a passionate plea for council to chiefs to reconsider their decision as she presented a separate petition.

“I am surprised to be fighting again on my own doorstep to save services we love,” she said.

“This petition was raised only six weeks following the decision to cut the library budget. The depth of feeling among residents is clear.

“I know it is government money but it costs £4 million to upgrade a roundabout. The whole library budget is £2.6m. Why are we cutting such a small part of the budget?

“We realise the value of volunteers but a comprehensive library service includes professional librarians.”

A heated debate among members followed, with the opposition Labour Group supporting the position of the petitioners.

Coun Jim Robbins (Lab, Mannington and Western), said: “We are now in a position where it is clear people are not happy with what is going on.

“We put forward a plan for the budget which would have kept libraries open for two years while we came up with a way forward and it was ignored.

“The first lending library in Swindon opened in 1943. If we could fund one then with everything else going on it is a shame we can’t do it now.”

The Conservatives have said there will be no library closures this year and said the proposals aim to keep create a sustainable service in the long term.

Coun Perkins (Con, Haydon Wick), the cabinet member for libraries, said it was important to get a plan in place for the next 20 years.

He said: “This is about how we go forward. Libraries are important to me as they are to everyone in Swindon but sticking our head in the ground and hoping something will happen is not something we can do. I want to talk to people because I do not have the answers.

“The only way forward is going to be to work together. Keeping libraries open for two years is one thing but if we do then we will have to this all over again but with less time and less money.”

A report is set to be presented in the summer which will formally outline the council’s strategy between now and 2020 and the petition will now be included when developing it.