BARNET’S libraries will remain open – but will be shrunk and left unstaffed for a majority of the time, under new proposals.

If Barnet council’s plans go ahead, 46 per cent of library staff will be axed, from 114 to 62 full time library workers, and space will be let out for commercial and community use to raise money.

Four libraries – Childs Hill, East Barnet, Mill Hill and South Friern – will also be run by volunteers as ‘partnership libraries’.

Libraries will also be shrunk depending on which category they are put in – with ‘core’ libraries being a minimum of 2,100sqft, ‘core plus’ at least 5,300sqft, and ‘partnership’ at least 1,900sqft in size.

Under the proposals, Hendon Library will be shrunk from 19,375sqft to 2,153sqft, and East Finchley Library will be shrunk from 5,081sqft to 2,153sqft.

Opening hours will be increased by 42 per cent, from 634 hours to at least 904 hours each week, through the use of technology and unstaffed hours.

But the number of staffed opening hours will be reduced by 70 per cent, from 634 hours to 188 hours.

A report to the council’s children, education, libraries and safeguarding (CELS) committee says cuts to staffed opening hours were “generally opposed” by consultation respondents, but the council believes the proposal “best balances” the desire to keep all libraries open and still make savings.

A trial has been carried out at Edgware Library since June for unstaffed opening hours. Officers said feedback “suggests an encouraging level of confidence”, with usage “steadily increasing”.

The authority faces an overall budget gap of £98.4m by 2020, with the £2.85m library cuts part of the £17.9m cuts the CELS committee is set to make. 

Councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of CELS committee, said: “I look forward to an important discussion about the revised libraries proposals at CELS committee. We have had to consider a great many factors.

“We’ve also listened to our residents and I believe the new proposals reflect how much our libraries mean to them but I want to hear views from other councillors on the committee.

“The new recommendation would see us maintain the same number of libraries - 14 - as well as keep the home, mobile and digital services. As a number of councils across the country are closing libraries as part of the need to save money I am pleased that Barnet’s proposals will maintain the same number of sites.”

Cllr Thompstone added: “But in order to do that we need to harness local community spirit by providing volunteering opportunities in libraries, which will see residents helping to run our valued local assets.

“We’re also looking to increase access to libraries using new technology to extend opening hours. This has worked well in a pilot with more than 500 people signing up and means residents will have access to our libraries for longer than at present."