PROPOSALS to shrink libraries and cut staff have been met with dismay by campaigners.

No library will shut under the plans by Barnet council, and opening hours will be increased through the use of technology and volunteers.

But staff will be axed by 46 per cent – from 114 to 62 full time workers – and libraries will be left unstaffed for the majority of the time, while four will be run by volunteers.

Campaigner Mary Beer-Cleasby, of Chandos Road, East Finchley, said: “The plans are extremely worrying. It is dangerous and designed to hoodwink the public into thinking everything is safe, when it is less comprehensive and is ultimately going to be extremely disruptive. It is a slow death, rather than an immediate death.

“The consultation results are explicit - nobody wanted professional staff replaced by volunteers. The other issue is, who are these volunteers? They have provided no evidence they are available. It is not fair to expect people to do a professional job for free. It is just not going to work.

“Part of it is people don’t understand what librarians do. They are highly skilled and resourceful, and make a great difference to children reading. And the people of Barnet know it.”

Ms Beer-Cleasby added: “A library is more than just a room full of books. The tragic thing is it will be very expensive to put back together again. You cannot give that time back to our children.”

Councillor Anne Hutton, Labour’s libraries spokeswoman, said: “My main concern is that this plan is full of assumptions. Over £6m of public money is due to be spent on refurbishing the libraries and cutting their space to make way for ‘business and community’ use but where is the evidence that this will be taken up?

“It is shameful that after seven months no coherent business plan seems to exist and yet staffing is to be drastically cut.”

Cllr Hutton added: “Of course the main problem is that Barnet Tories are falling over themselves to implement government cuts – no other London borough that I know of is cutting its library budget by such a drastic amount as £2.85m, Camden next door is looking at saving £800,000 for example.

“Barnet is at least top of the league in something then – such a pity it has to come at the expense of a sustainable library service.”

Richard Logue, from the Save Barnet Libraries group, said: “I am pleased they are seeing sense to keep the libraries open, but I am not happy about the destruction of the jobs of library staff, who have actually done a lot of work to get more people into the libraries. Where are we going to get this army of volunteers from?

“The library service is going to suffer as a result. There are other ways of preserving it.”

Councillor Reuben Thompstone, Conservative chairman of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding (CELS) committee, said: “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.

“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.”

Cllr Thompstone added: “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."

The plans will be discussed by the CELS committee in Hendon Town Hall next Monday (October 12) at 7pm.