THE councillor behind a review of libraries in the borough has given a “100 per cent commitment” to having at least 14 libraries in the borough.

After 1,600 responses to a public consultation and three months of work by officers, the libraries strategy is finally published today, proposing to keep 14 out of 16 sites in the borough.

Included in the plans is a new facility at the artsdepot in North Finchley, merging the existing North Finchley and Friern Barnet libraries.

There are also plans to find new buildings for the Finchley Church End, Child’s Hill and Grahame Park libraries.

Councillor Robert Rams, the cabinet member for community engagement who has fronted the library consultation, said: “We have 100 per cent commitment, we would not put this down on paper and cost it out unless I believed we can provide this library service.

“We have come up with a set of proposals to make sure libraries can be here for years to come.

“The crux of our whole strategy is a One Barnet approach, focusing on what our community needs and producing a service that matches that.”

He told the Times Series the council was changing the way it looks at the library service putting a new focus on literacy, in both children and adults, and signing up every primary school child to the libraries.

He added: “Children are at the heart of this, every primary school in Barnet will be sent to the library to introduce them to how it works and librarians will go into schools to encourage the kids.

“We’re spending an extra £10,000 on books, I doubt any other library service in the country has done that.

“We will increase opening hours, with all libraries opening at the latest 9.30am and we’re going to work to resolve the issue of closing at lunchtime. The library has to be there when people need to use it.”

In the plans around £3 million will be raised from selling-off library buildings, cash Cllr Rams said would be pumped into maintaining other facilities and setting up the artsdepot “hub”.

The money from co-locating services could help plug the £110,000 shortfall faced by the theatre after council funding was cancelled this year.

He said: “We don’t know exactly how it will work yet, whether we close one or both of North Finchley and Friern Barnet before we open the new artsdepot site, it’s something we have to ask in the next round of consultation.

“We’ve had good conversations with the artsdepot and they are positive about us working with them. They would go from taking taxpayer handouts to being a partner and they’re positive about the extra footfall it will create.”

Cllr Rams was also keen to dispel scepticism about plans to rebuild certain facilities, looking to get other services to share library space to create convenient services for residents.

One, Grahame Park, could be rebuilt as part of the stalled regeneration programme, with organisations like Barnet Homes potentially co-located there.

He added: “Anyone sceptical about Grahame Park should remember what we did at South Friern, we created a new state-of-the-art library through selling off land, but now we have a fabulous new facility at the heart of the community.

“We will make sure it’s all done as quickly as possible to minimise inconvenience for our residents

“Although it has a good footfall there are relatively few books loaned there, so we have to look at other ways to get value from the service and provide what people want.”

One library which looks set to close is Hampstead Garden Suburb, one of the least used facilities which is leased from a landlord by the council.

Plans have been drawn up to move the book collection to The Institute, near East Finchley Tube Station, with a self-service machine.

Cllr Rams said: “This is the Big Society in action. The Institute will take all the stock and be running that library for the public.

“We will also be setting up home deliveries in the area, which may have a small charge attached as a premium service.”

Around 16 jobs are expected to be lost in the process, although currently seven of these are unfilled posts, with £350,000 savings hoped to be made in a link up with a neighbouring council to run back office services.

“We will do everything to cut back office costs and other costs before we remove buildings, to ensure the library service stays as strong as it is for the next 10 years,” he added.

“I think people will see we have listened and worked with the community, and have had an opportunity to have their say on the proposals.

“I will be going to residents’ forums over th coming months to speak to people about the plans and get their feedback, and hopefully these proposals will set us in good stead.”