The number of people borrowing books from libraries dipped dramatically in the past 12 years, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

But more people are registered at libraries in Barnet than ever before – and last year 187,759 people were members – a 14 per cent increase from 2002 when the figure was 164,190.

The figures also revealed that 2,519,760 items were borrowed in 2002, falling to only 1,264,125 last year.

The Times Series asked Barnet council to disclose how many people use and borrow books, CDs and other items from libraries, after it held a consultation on their future.

SEE ALSO: Barnet spent £91,000 on its libraries consultation

Polly Napper, who is campaigning to save East Finchley Library which is under threat of closing down, says the low borrowing totals are not proof that libraries are underused.

The 47-year-old said: “There’s a tendency to obsess about libraries being books – they are also about curated information.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing you need a librarian to show you a trustworthy source to show you.

“And that figure doesn’t account for students going there to revise. Last year Church End library said the study room was full. Where are they meant to go? The pub? The park?”

Barnet council needs to cut £2.85m out of the library budget to make £72m of savings in the next six years.

Options include making them smaller, staffing them with volunteers or shutting some altogether – a suggestion that has been met with fury.

The number of registered members at libraries jumped in 2008 from 151,718 to 173,348 – something Ms Napper attributed to the credit crunch.

She added: “It’s symptomatic of austerity that people who are struggling rely on libraries. If they are shut or made smaller, these vital resources will become overcrowded.

“I heard that in areas libraries have been closed, people are spending money on bus fares to get to a further away library to apply for jobs.

“They then have to queue for a couple of hours and only get an hour on the computer. That’s not fair.”

Cllr Reuben Thompstone, who is in charge of libraries, said: “The way our residents use our libraries has changed over time and it is only right that we make sure that the service reflects this.

“We have to make difficult decisions about our libraries and I believe we can only get this right by hearing what our residents think.”