CAMPAIGNERS were last night offered fresh hope in their bid to keep open more than 20 of the county’s threatened libraries.

County council leader Keith Mitchell said council officers are now working with local communities on “a library by library” basis in an effort to avoid any closures.

In November, County Hall said it would stop funding to 20 of the county’s 43 libraries.

But Mr Mitchell said officers had gone back to the drawing board with a consultation on the future of the service set to start next month.

He said: “We are starting with a blank piece of paper. We are looking at all options. No decisions have been taken. Officers are working hard to rethink the process.”

The Tory was unable to guarantee every single library would remain open, but said: “It would be wonderful if that could be achieved.

“We will be working hard to see what we can do. I want the council to work hand-in-hand with local communities to find a way to keep libraries open in Oxfordshire and to forge ahead with creating a modern library service that is comprehensive and efficient. I want the county council to have a dialogue with local people library by library.”

Mr Mitchell’s olive branch to Save Our Library groups, however, came with a warning that savings would still have to be made.

And he made clear that he still believes keeping libraries open “in some places” would only be possible if volunteers came forward to help run them.

Sylvia Vetta, chairman of the Friends of Kennington Library group, said: “This is welcome news. It seems that Mr Mitchell has moved an awful long way. It seems positive and we hope his statement is a preliminary to genuine consultation.”

Marcus Ferrar, of the Friends of Summertown Library, said: “We are glad that Mr Mitchell’s statement indicates a readiness to take into account the strong views of the community of Summertown about the planned closure of our library, which caused widespread outrage.”

Judith Wardle, chairman of the Save Oxfordshire Libraries group, said: “One worry is about how much Friends groups can be expected to do. They are struggling to make ends meet in some parts of the county.”