ALL of Oxfordshire’s 43 libraries could be saved from closure under the new proposals unveiled yesterday.
The county council gave in after an unprecedented public backlash against a plan revealed last November to end funding for 20 branches.
It is now pledging to provide free buildings, book stocks, access to the council’s computer network and professional support from librarians to all of Oxfordshire’s libraries.
But many would have to recruit volunteers over the next three years to replace paid staff.
A core list of 22 libraries, including seven on the council’s original hit list, would remain fully staffed in order to meet the council’s duty in law to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.
A second group of five libraries will receive “significant levels of staffing”, backed by a small element of volunteers.
But at the remaining 16 libraries, mainly in rural areas, volunteers will take on an increasing role in running the service from county council staff over the next three years.
All 43 branches will be equipped with user-operated self-issuing machines, and the council wants to introduce coffee bars and free wi-fi Internet access to help increase footfall in libraries.
A consultation on the new plan will last four months and no changes would be implemented until the start of the 2012-13 financial year next April.
Judith Wardle, chairman of Save Oxfordshire’s Libraries, said: “Some of bigger libraries, including Botley, Headington and Summertown, will be extremely pleased.
“All three were worried they were going to lose their buildings, never mind anything else.
“But obviously those libraries in the third tier and having to rely on volunteers will be wanting to question how the council arrived at their conclusions, and we will want to analyse the council’s data ourselves.”
She added: “I am well aware coming from the voluntary sector that even when you have volunteers, they require a lot of management.
“Some places may be more able to do it than others, but what will happen when libraries fail?”
Marcus Ferrar, of the Friends of Summertown Library, said: “This is a much better outcome than seemed possible three or four months ago, and that’s a tribute to the people of Oxfordshire who made their indignation known and campaigned to have a rethink.”
Neil Clark, of Save Botley Library, said: “We wanted all along to keep Botley Library as a professionally run, fully-staffed public library, and I’m happy that it will be.
“But as a group in solidarity with other libraries, we do not want to see any forced to take volunteers.”
He added: “We argued all the way through that the original plans were in complete breach of the council’s legal requirements, and now we feel vindicated.
“The whole thing has been really badly handled by the council.”
The county council’s Liberal Democrat group libraries spokesman, Oxford councillor John Goddard, said: “The original proposals were brutal and unnecessary.
“There are all sorts of details that need to be worked out, but this is a huge improvement on where we were before.”