Libraries often have a reputation of being silent places.

But campaigners have been anything but silent in their fight to save their community spaces.

And while last week brought something of a reprieve, it is fair to say County Hall’s revised proposals have sparked just as much criticism.

Essex County Council said its policy had “changed drastically” and the new 38-page document sets out its plans.

Under the original proposals 25 libraries could have closed and of the 49 staying open, 19 could have been run by community groups.

The new plan means the council will not close any libraries in the next five years.

On Tuesday, the council’s cabinet is being asked to approve five recommendations:

  • To note the strong public engagement with the consultation
  • To agree to adopt the new strategy for 2019-2024
  • To support the people of Essex to “reinvigorate and reverse the downward trend” in library use and support community-run libraries
  • To note the revised strategy does not envisage the closure of any library during the life of the strategy
  • To authorise the draw down of £3million from the Transformation Reserve to set up and support community-run libraries and invest in modernising libraries and technology.

So what does the strategy say - and what does it mean for our towns and villages?

The plans are dependent on community groups and volunteers running a number of libraries across the county.

As yet there is no detail on which libraries would be community-run and when it would start.

The council has said it received 80 expressions of interest by groups willing to take on 39 libraries across the county.

None of the expressions of interest are binding and groups must come forward to make formal applications.

The strategy has no details on a backup plan if no-one stepped forward to take on the centres.

To help community groups the council will offer a grant of £18,000 over three years, an initial donation of books and training for staff.

In the foreword to the strategy Susan Barker, the council’s culture boss, said: “We are convinced there are better ways to run the service and by working with communities we can keep a library service in every current location.

“We are still concerned about the declining use but believe a combination of council-run and community-run libraries offers the best hope to reverse the trend.

“We will provide guidance to each of those who have submitted an expression of interest and welcome any new ones, so they can develop a robust proposal.”

The council hopes in the next few years community-run libraries will be established or in the process of setting up.

But it says if a reverse in decline is not achieved it will be “difficult to justify continuing with the same level of service”.

The council also says it expects most libraries will be in shared spaces by 2024.

This could be in community centres, shops or leisure centres.

And for community-run libraries?

Here the council expects communities to own or pay for the premises they use.

The strategy said: “We would expect community libraries would be run from premises owned or paid for by the community groups.

“Buildings that are no longer required by the library service because the community has opened a library in other premises will be considered under the council’s usual way of dealing with properties no longer required for their current use.”

The council is also set to look at opening hours but says it is “not financially viable” to provide more staffed hours.

Instead it will use volunteers, explore smart libraries and improve its eLibrary technology which is available 24 hours a day.

They say smart libraries can increase opening hours and use of library services.

Customers use their library cards to get inside the buildings outside of opening hours, similar to secure ATM lobbies some banks have.

It is already used in Leicestershire and Peterborough.

The report said: “People could browse, study, borrow and return books using self-service machines or even hire the libraries for meetings or activities.”

Essex County Council is hoping this move will help revive libraries but it is still facing opposition from campaigners.

They have hit out at community-run centres and some will be marching on County Hall on Tuesday.