IF you are thinking of running your own library, maybe you’d better look at just how much it would cost.

According to Oxfordshire County Council figures, the 20 threatened libraries have running costs of up to £200,000 a year each, excluding management and expert support.

County Hall has said if cuts predicted to save £2m over four years are approved, community groups will be able to bid to run services.

But voluntary groups said it would be difficult to assemble the cash, facilities and expertise to keep branches open.

The council has not confirmed whether volunteers will be given first refusal on council-owned buildings if they want to save their branch.

It owns properties housing half the 20 libraries, in Benson, Berinsfield, Blackbird Leys, Chinnor, Deddington, Grove, Littlemore, Stonesfield, Summertown and Woodcote.

Spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “We cannot give a running commentary on the nature and extent of individual discussions relating to 20 different libraries. If a decision is taken to cease funding some libraries, the county council would do everything it could within its constrained resources to assist any ‘Big Society’ proposals.”

And asked whether groups would be charged commercial rental rates, Mr Mabberley added: “The process is nowhere near far along enough to give a coherent answer to this question.”

The council is planning a one-off £600,000 ‘Big Society’ fund for groups wanting to run threatened services.

If library and youth service cuts are approved by councillors on Tuesday, February 15, community groups would be sent information packs and application forms in spring.

Bidding would run until the end of June, before councillors decide which projects to fund.

Last year, branches’ rough annual running costs, including staffing, utility bills, books and supplies, ranged from £17,000 at Stonesfield to £167,000 at Headington Library in Bury Knowle Park.

The costs do not include rent, management overheads, centrally provided librarian support or the income from fees.

Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson said: “To expect voluntary societies such as ourselves to be able to assemble the necessary commitment, expertise and capability to run a library to its full potential when the professionals under the auspices of the county council have demonstrably failed to do so is not appropriate.

“I think it is totally unrealistic to think that a community group like ours could fund that sort of money.”

And Headington city councillor Ruth Wilkinson, a professional librarian, said community groups would also need existing book stocks and access to the county databases.

She said: “The costs will depend on opening hours and what services any community library would provide, but I don’t think it possible to raise that sort of money at the moment.”

Out of 3,597,300 visits to the libraries last year, 645,000 were to the 20 libraries under threat, with 43 per cent of those to Headington and Summertown libraries.

On the county council website, 497 people signed a petition to save Headington and 1,542 said Summertown should be saved.

Oxford City Council leases the building housing Headington library to County Hall.

The rent on the property is £16,300 a year but the county council has already paid ahead until March 2016.

The city council said it was “happy to explore opportunities for working with other groups to run library services in Headington if the county council withdraws funding.”

The county council’s cabinet will meet to discuss the cuts at 2pm tomorrow in County Hall.

lsloan@oxfordmail.co.uk * Are you considering taking over your library? Call us on 01865 425500