Hundreds of children in colourful costumes chose to commemorate World Book Day by joining a protest against the rapid reduction of their library services.

Barnet Council is currently trying to save £2.2 million of its budget with alterations to borough libraries including a reduction in staff hours and privately renting out certain library space.

Showing their opposition to the project, an organised picket of East Finchley library saw schoolchildren and parents gather yesterday afternoon (Mar 2) to mark World Book Day.

Placards held up at the event said things such as: “No entry if you are under 16!”, and another which portrayed leader of the council Cllr Richard Cornelius as the Grinch, saying: “Don’t let the Grinch steal our libraries!”

The concerns expressed by children, in the character costumes they wore to school, and parents included the introduction of CCTV cameras to replace staff, which they said excluded children from going to libraries unsupervised.

Melisa Aliya, 12, said she goes to East Finchley Library every day after school and has earned certificates for advanced reading because of all the books she can borrow there.

She said: “I love my library and I love to read, this is where I go to learn and study.

“If the libraries change, if they are shut down or the staff are taken away, my parents won’t think it is safe for me to go alone after school and I will lose something which means so much to me.”

Saima Kausar, a mother of four whose children came dressed as characters from Harry Potter and Star Wars, said her children use the library every day.

She said: “They come to learn, read and feel safe – it is at the heart of our community and it is so valuable to my children as they grow up.

“If the library services are reduced to become unusable, my children will be devastated.”

Emily Burnham, who helped arrange the picket, said the council’s plans for Barnet libraries were going to cost £14 million to implement.

She said: “The changes will outright massacre our public libraries and the money they are spending to use it is completely illogical.

“In what world does spending £14 million to save £2.2 million make any amount of sense?”

Activists at the event also claimed a reduction in disabled facilities “excluded” disabled residents and they were encouraged by the council to “stay at home” and use the online service instead.

Councillors for the Labour opposition group attended the event asking people to sign a petition to oppose the council’s acceptance of the national funding formula, which is expected to impact Barnet’s schools.

East Finchley’s Cllr Arjun Mittra said: “What this protest is doing is politicising children at a very early age – they are angry and desperate to keep their libraries up and running.

“I believe the Tories’ decisions here coupled with their acceptance of massive budget cuts to our schools shows they do not care about Barnet’s children at all.”

In response to the points raised at the picket, Barnet Council said it was working with schools as part of its “ongoing ambition” to support children’s learning.

The protestors' £14 million figure was also disputed by the council, claiming: "the overall cost of delivering the new library service, including repair and maintenance work to all 14 library buildings and installing self-service opening technology is expected to fall within our agreed £7 million estimate."

Chair of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee Cllr Reuben Thompstone said: “We have redesigned our library service to keep all 14 libraries open, as well as our home, mobile and digital library resources while delivering savings.

“Though the number of staffed hours is reducing, we are giving our residents increased access to their local library using technology extended opening hours.

“During staffed hours, there is no change to the way children can access the library and children can make use of the new extended opening hours when accompanied by an adult.

“Schools can also register to use the self-service opening hours and will be able to accompany children during unstaffed hours.

“Our libraries are part of a universal and unique service which offers learning opportunities to all from early years through to retirement.

“Our ongoing ambition is for libraries to continue helping all children in Barnet to have the best start in life by developing essential language, literacy and learning skills as well as a love of reading from an early age.”