IN 2007, Hillingdon library bosses woke up and smelt the coffee. Literally.

Four years on, more than half its 17 libraries have been rebuilt or refurbished, visitor numbers are up 84 per cent, and there is a Starbucks in every branch.

They are open longer, yet the running costs are the same.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, libraries minister and Wantage MP Ed Vaizey and councillors from Birmingham and Swindon all want in on Hillingdon’s secret.

Later this month, senior Oxfordshire county councillors, including leader Keith Mitchell, will join that list.

They want to know if the Hillingdon model could help them save libraries here.

The man behind the London borough’s library revolution is councillor Henry Higgins.

His mantra of council innovation will be music to the ears of the 19 campaign groups in Oxfordshire that want their threatened libraries to be maintained by the local authority.

Taking inspiration from former book giant Borders, which housed coffee bars in its stores, and even the Hollywood rom-com You’ve Got Mail, Mr Higgins set about transforming libraries from cover to cover.

He took advice from major book retailers, employed shopfitters to redesign layouts, had libraries buy direct from book wholesalers (saving £300,000) and struck the deal with Starbucks.

Mr Higgins said: “I didn’t care if they came for the books first or the coffee, once they came, I knew they’d stay.”

The coffee brings in the twenty- and thirty-somethings, he said, and suites of Apple mac computers attract teenagers.

“About 25 per cent of people will always use libraries whatever state they are in. About 25 per cent will never use them. What we have done is hit the 50 per cent that might use them.”

A slice of the profits from the sale of lattes and americanos stay with each branch and can be reinvested in new books.

And the libraries now run Apple Mac courses, another revenue generator.

The use of council buildings is also innovative.

The council sold off its ageing library in Ruislip Manor to a developer. It used the cash to build a new library that houses adult education in the basement, freeing up another council building.

Above the library, the council built flats it has sold to first-time buyers in the borough.

Mr Higgins said: “This (library) didn’t cost anything, it was self-financing.”

The Conservative councillor admits the situation faced by Oxfordshire is different to that in Hillingdon in 2007, but he added financial pressure could make radical change more palatable.

And he says savings can be found, even without the £3m investment Hillingdon made.

“There is no doubt they could save money by following the principles. That’s restructuring staff, rethinking distribution and procurement. It is looking at the whole service,” he said.

And what does he think of other options for libraries.

Could volunteers run them? “No, if I am honest. They can help and they do help, but you have to have someone with experience,” he said.

What about a private firm?

“Privatising services is fine but where is the investment going to come in? Libraries don’t make money.”

The delegation from Oxfordshire will include Liberal Democrat councillor John Goddard, who brought Hillingdon’s libraries to County Hall’s attention.

“There is scope for a rigorous examination of costs, income generation and value-for-money,” he said.

“This could offer ways of doing it that avoids 20 libraries having no money.”

Student Emma Slater, 18, regularly attends the rebuilt Ruislip Manor Library.

She said: “The libraries were a bit rubbish and no-one came to them. Now they have the technology like the iMacs and the computers. At exam time you can’t get a seat in here.”

Ray Cooney, 59, a retired teacher, said: “You have instant access to computers and it’s open until 10pm four nights a week. They keep the library in tip-top condition,” he said.