WATCHDOGS are urging county bosses to work with librarians to ensure the library service remains affordable.

CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, is calling on Hampshire County Council to work with librarians across the county in a bid to ensure libraries continue to meet local needs.

It comes as the local authority is to launch a public consultation over the future of the 52 libraries across the country.

The news follows claims, now denied by civic chiefs, that 37 libraries in the country would face axe as the authority looks to save £1.75m by 2021.

The move, as previously reported, could put 58 jobs at risk.

County bosses said a budget of around £10m will still be available.

CILIP said they understand and sympathise with the “immense financial pressure” that councils find themselves under.

In a statement the  library and information association added: “But it is important to ensure that any changes to services are carried out with due regard to user needs, the statutory duty of the council and the likely impact on equality of access for local people. We are always concerned when a council cuts libraries to fill a budget gap because it doesn’t really help to address the underlying issue, which is the impact of the Government’s austerity policy. Councils must not pretend that handing libraries to local volunteers, who have already paid for library services through their taxes, will deliver anything like the same quality or consistency of services. We urge all councils to work with their professional librarians to design a strategy that will ensure the library service is affordable, innovative and able to continue to meet local needs, long into the future.”

Cllr Sean Woodward, executive member for recreation and heritage at Hampshire County Council said: “The County Council faces an anticipated budget shortfall of £80 million by April 2021. All of the County Council’s services are being looked at to find savings and efficiencies to help bridge the current funding gap. We will be conducting a ten week public consultation which looks at options for delivering £1.76 million savings from the Library Service budget. This represents 16% of the overall budget for the service. I want to be clear that we’re absolutely committed to ensuring that Hampshire residents have access to high quality library services – which we know are valued and will be fit for the future, as people’s needs change, and within the budget we have available.”

The consultation will be launched on January 9, 2020.

Cllr Woodward added: “The consultation will reveal the emerging vision for Hampshire Libraries to 2025 which has been discussed with a number of different professional bodies. This will be used alongside implementing efficiency measures, and a drive to maximise income through events and room hire. We will also be seeking residents’ and library staff views on different ways of providing library services.”