Published: 00:00, 21 January 2015
| Updated: 11:23, 21 January 2015
A Facebook page called Save Deal Library has been set up following plans unveiled by the county council to run libraries in Kent by charitable trust.
The council has announced a 12-week consultation on a proposal to pass over the job of running libraries as it bids to save money in the face of a continuing public sector spending squeeze.
Although the council says no library closures are anticipated “at the present time” the trust could change opening hours – including increasing the times they are open. The proposal could also affect more than 500 staff as they will come under the control of the trust.
Hugh Kennedy, who set up the page, which currently has 230 likes, has written: “Proposals to reduce services and have our library run by volunteers are not good enough for our town.
"Help us campaign to keep our library alive.”
His comment on Deal Watch Facebook page gained more than 100 comments from Deal residents. His highlighted points included where will vulnerable people with poor skills go to make online applications, make housing inquiries and be able to speak to professional staff.
He said: “Please try to like the page so we have a critical mass of opinion. Only when people work together on a local issue, with no political agenda can things be achieved.”
He has also urged all local political candidates to support keeping the library as it is.
Prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour, Clair Hawkins, has liked the page.
She said: "I've used Deal Library since childhood. I remember the smell of the children's books, researching for primary school projects and revising for hours in the reference section before my GCSE's and A Levels.
"Our libraries and librarians are really important; for accessing books, using computers and as quiet spaces for reading and thinking. The proposed cuts to the library service are worrying and follow a long line of KCC cuts, often hurting the most vulnerable people.
"We've seen the closure of children's centres, cuts to children's and older people's care, street lights switched off and of course the closure of Walmer Science College.
She added: "I hope everyone with views about our library responds to the consultation and makes their feelings known."
One advantage would be that as a charity, the trust would be exempt from paying business rates which cost KCC about £500,000 a year.
Cllr Mike Hill (Con), KCC cabinet member for communities, said the service needed to save £3.27m over the next few years.
“Our libraries, registration and archive service benefits residents across Kent each year and we want to make sure this continues. We recognise how important and valuable these services are to the public.
“Moving to a trust model will give us the flexibility to change and improve services in the best way possible for residents.”
KCC would continue to own its 99 libraries and would lease them to the trust. In common with other councils, KCC has faced a decline in the number of people borrowing books along with the growing popularity of e-readers.
Despite this, KCC has invested heavily in redeveloping several libraries as “gateway centres” providing access to other council services. In the last three years, the council has spent £30m on redeveloping and building new libraries.
The trust model has been already been adapted by many councils, including Bromley, Buckinghamshire and Bolton.
Details of the KCC consultation can be found at www.kent.gov.uk/libraries