LIBRARY users have expressed scepticism that the service in many Oxfordshire communities can be saved from closure by using volunteers.

They claim the plans revealed by the county council last week could mean Oxfordshire will be robbed of a modern library service.

On Saturday, the Oxford Mail revealed that up to 20 of the county’s 43 libraries could face closure unless volunteers come forward to run them, as part of county council plans to save £155m from its budget by 2015.

And County Hall has been warned its plans to hand libraries over to local communities will be unworkable.

The withdrawal of funding from almost half the county’s libraries, with volunteers expected to fill the breach, is being presented by council leader Keith Mitchell as a Big Society initiative, in line with the Government’s plans to decentralise services But library groups claim the idea would mean the slow death of Oxfordshire’s library service.

In Oxford, the council is ready to stop funding the libraries in Summertown, Headington, Old Marston, Botley, Blackbird Leys and Littlemore.

Funding would also end at Kennington, Benson, Grove, Charlbury, Berinsfield, North Leigh, Adderbury, Bampton, Deddington, Sonning Common, Stonesfield, Woodcote and Neithrop in Banbury.

Sylvia Vetta, of the Friends of Kennington Library, said: “It looks like the county wish to destroy what they claim to support. Oxfordshire has one of the best library service infrastructures in Britain, offering the best value for money. But it looks like it will be sacrificed.

“The council appear to be advocating a traditional library service without access to the computer network and a new book delivery service. That, in reality, will mean a protracted death of our library.

“And where are the volunteers who want to provide their time and energy to oversee a slow decline?”

Gina Cuciniello fears her local library in South Parade, Summertown, is especially vulnerable. She said: “People in the library believe it will probably close.

“The council isn’t looking at the number of users but the proximity to bigger libraries and they will say we’re close to the city centre, with another library in Kidlington.”

Ms Cuciniello, who lives in Cutteslowe, said: “I really cannot see libraries working on a voluntary basis. They need to be professionally run.

“I really think local communities aren’t being considered here.”

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals warned that any increased use of volunteers needed to be done “within the framework of a professionally-managed service”.

Spokesman Guy Daines said: “Councils simply can’t walk away from taking responsibility for these services.”

Mr Mitchell said: “We have a clear vision to have a quality, core network of libraries, based on centres of population. These will still be run by the council and they will be supplemented by mobile libraries.

“In line with the Government’s Big Society agenda, we are very keen to hear from local communities and organisations who may wish to take on the running of local libraries.”