The closure of libraries was described as a “situation too heartbreaking for words” during a packed meeting.

Hundreds filled Hartley Hall, Mill Hill, to discuss a consultation into proposals to close some of Barnet Borough Council’s libraries as part of measures to save £2.85m.

The panel was made up of Deborah Moggach, author of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, MP Matthew Offord, GLA member for Barnet Andrew Dismore and Barnet blogger Theresa Musgrove, also known as Mrs Angry.

The first question from the floor was from a child, who asked what would happen to the books if the libraries were closed.

Ms Moggach told the meeting: “The situation we are facing is too heartbreaking for words. Cubic inch for cubic inch a good book is the best use of space on this planet.

“To be in a place you can learn, run by people who really know what they are talking about, is so precious. If it goes, it’s gone forever.”

SF Said, a bestselling children’s author who wrote Varjak Paw, said: “A library is not just a place for books – they have really seen the whole of the human life come and go.

“It’s a life changing space.”

Mr Said explained how beneficial libraries are for unemployed people looking for a space to retrain.

Campaigners say groups including chess clubs, toddler rhyme time and meet ups for the elderly, which run from libraries, are often overcrowded.

Stanley Lerner, 75, said he joined the library as a young boy and now regularly attends a coffee morning there, run by Age UK.

One option is closing all but four libraries and the authority say that people would be able to travel to all branches by public transport within half an hour.

Another is to keep libraries staffed solely by volunteers or to reduce them in size to 540sq ft.

Conservative MP Mathew Offord said he is lobbying council leader Councillor Richard Cornelius over the issue and urged people to fill in the consultation.

He said: “Books have changed my life. I want to see the library service relevant to people nowadays. People are using different mediums; people are using kindles. At the library you pick up books that you might not ordinarily - through browsing.”

Labour GLA member Andrew Dismore said: “It's disingenuous to ask people to vote for three options and not have the most popular option 'no change' as a choice on the ballot paper. Decimating the library service would be horrendous."

Blogger Theresa Musgrove pleaded with the council to consider the “consequences” of removing libraries from children's lives.

She said: “Learning empathy through books cannot be underestimated. It's not a case of modernising libraries as Matthew Offord has said, the council wants to destroy the library service.  Why are they so averse to reading and literacy?”

Cllr John Hart said he worked in a library, which his father built, at the age of 14.

He said: “The reality is that Barnet’s budget over this current decade will be halved.

“I am very sympathetic. The leader of the council is too. No one wants to do away with libraries.”

Richard Logue, who is chairman of the Mill Hill Residents Association, has also previously suggested turning libraries into places that could turn a profit by opening coffee shops.

Union UNISON is also pleading with the council to change its mind and keep libraries open.

Councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children’s, libraries and safeguarding committee, said: “The consultation continues and I encourage residents to contribute. We have to consult on the worst case scenario and I understand that this may be a source of concern.

“Savings do need to be made and this will result in some changes to the overall service, but I do not anticipate that library closures will form the eventual solution.”