A “CULL” carried out in libraries across Essex has seen the number of books stocked fall by more than 500,000 over the past ten years.

Last year, Essex County Council backtracked on its plan to close 25 of the county’s libraries after a fierce backlash from campaigners.

The authority instead pledged not to close any libraries for five years and to pump £3 million of investment into the service.

It still hopes to set up 19 community-run libraries.

But campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex fears the authority is still pushing ahead with a “closure by stealth”.

A Freedom of Information Request to the authority revealed at Colchester Library alone, the stock of books has shrunk by more than 60,000 since 2007/08.

Brenda Wells, from Manningtree, who regularly uses Colchester Library, said many books are being sold in return for a donation.

She said: “There has been a noticeable shrinkage in the number of available books in libraries on the north Essex coast. A large area on the first floor of Colchester Library is now a well-stocked book shop where books in remarkably good condition are being sold off for a small donation.

“This is compounding the book shortage and a questionable use of resources.”

Jean Quinn, a visitor to Colchester Library, said the Ordnance Survey maps, which she used regularly, have disappeared.

At Prettygate library the stock of books has fallen by 7,156 over the past ten years.

Campaigner Katy Vargas said: “Several people have told me they are sometimes up to 70th on the waiting list for recent or popular books, even easy to anticipate ones like ‘The Essex Serpent.’

“Although the reservation system is great, it has become the main access to books for some people due to the lack of stock, rather than an occasional necessity, and they feel they are being forced out of the library.

“I have had a similar experience with children’s books at both Prettygate and town centre libraries, where children who like to read are often stuck and have to order books in rather than browsing to discover something new, as there isn’t enough in each age range.”

A spokesman for Save Our Libraries Essex said the figures showed a drop in library popularity could be attributed to cuts including the “cull” of book stock.

“The cuts in general book stocks are shocking," he said.

“Between 2007/08 and 2017/18 nearly half a million books were cut in Essex, around a third of the overall total.

“SOLE has always maintained that any drop in library use has been down to cuts in opening hours and book stock.

“If a bookshop owner chose to sell a lot less books and reduce its opening hours, they would expect to see a decline in business. This is precisely what the council has done.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said books which are unpopular or damaged are removed, while new titles are added based on the authority’s knowledge of readers’ interests.

“Book stock is updated regularly in response to demand, to reflect the diversity of our community and to ensure we have an attractive range of books for children and adults,” he said.

“Our stock policy reflects current trends in reading patterns and the diverse way people now access reading material.

“For example, we have increased our e-books stock and added e-comics last year, in response to this changing demand.”

“If you want a particular book or more of one genre, let us know.

"We buy multiple copies of popular titles and hold a few copies of less popular titles at our main libraries, so we can send them out on request.

“Local studies sections are important and will continue.

"Many local studies books were centralised in the Essex Records Office in Chelmsford in 2014/15 but there are still collections at larger libraries and smaller collections at small libraries.”