DEVON County Council wants to make better use of alternative services to replace its “costly and ageing” mobile libraries.
The council’s ruling Conservative cabinet voted to close the service earlier in July after hearing borrowing has declined and three of its four library vans are coming to the end of their “serviceable lives”.
But the proposal is currently on hold after the opposition Liberal Democrats “called-in” the move so it will be assessed again in September, while a campaign to save the service has received the backing of authors Stephen Fry and Michael Rosen.
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition set up by Torridge councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, who claims there has been a “complete lack of any imaginative thinking about developing or replacing the mobile service to meet the needs of isolated communities”.
In a statement, Mr Fry said: “Mobile libraries are lifelines for rural communities … The idea that such a vital, beautiful, simple service should be denied to future generations is heartbreaking.”
However, Devon’s cabinet member for communities Cllr Roger Croad (Conservative, Ivybridge), explained that it would cost between £600,000 and £800,000 to replace the three vehicles, adding it was a “sad day” but “inevitable”.
In the last decade, the number of books being borrowed has fallen, although the fleet has been cut in half to just four vehicles in this time.
The council has concluded that mobile libraries are no longer “cost-effective” and “not sustainable”.
Under the plans, the annual £217,000 cost of providing the mobile service would go to Libraries Unlimited, a charity that runs the library service across Devon and Torbay, to help sustain existing services amid cost increases.
A one-off £25,000 for “transition support” would also be spent so that current mobile library users can access alternative services.
The “call-in” means no decision will now be taken until October.
Before then, the council’s scrutiny committee – when it meets in September – will consider the plans in further detail and could call on the authority’s leadership to change its mind.
But defending the proposal, a spokesperson for the council said: “We are enormously proud of our library service in Devon and remain totally committed to delivering a first rate, modern service that residents can access in different ways.
“Part of our commitment is also to library users who cannot attend their nearest static library, for whatever reason.
“We do not intend to take away their access to the library services, but do want to explore how we can make better use of our Home Library and Good Neighbours services, as well as our digital services – all of which deliver books and other materials to people at home – rather than maintain the costly and ageing mobile library vans that are reaching the end of their serviceable life.”