A library campaign group has questioned several Essex parliamentary candidates asking whether they support community-lead libraries ahead of the General Election.

Save Our Library Essex (SOLE) are fighting for libraries across the county to be run by Essex County Council in dedicated library buildings with paid trained staff.

Earlier this year, the council announced that libraries originally set to close can apply to become community-lead libraries as an alternative.

So far, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Colchester, Harlow, Harwich and North Essex, Maldon, Saffron Walden and Witham constituencies have been sent to the questionnaire.

“We are a strictly non-party political campaign”, said a SOLE spokesperson. “And we appreciate that candidates so far have had little time in which to respond.

“However, we urge voters to only back candidates that are supportive of libraries and support SOLE.

“Essex County Council's plans to remove paid staff and close dedicated library buildings, and have libraries staffed and run only by volunteers, perhaps from inside a pub as was suggested by one councillor, is a closure plan by stealth. These charity shop libraries are entirely unsustainable.”

Campaigners will be running a stall in Chelmsford High Street urging passersby to think about libraries when they vote on Thursday, December 12.

Chelmsford Labour candidate Penny Richards has confirmed she will join them.

She said: “I am in agreement with both the principles you outline. Libraries and their highly professional staff play a vital role in communities. It is one of the last spaces people can go without having to spend money.

“Losing the buildings and the service would leave young families without books to read, share and learn from, students a quiet space to study, and staff to guide those who need access and help to use digital resources.

“It would throw away an irreplaceable asset and Essex would be the poorer for it.”

Mike Hibbs, the Lib-Dem candidate for Saffron Walden, also gave campaigners his support, saying: “I think libraries are an essential resource in a civilised society.

“We should be enhancing and expanding them, not making mean minded cuts that will hit people most in need.

“Community involvement should be welcomed, but not as a substitute for a properly run library service. I was talking to a Saffron Walden resident, aged nine, who told me he’d read all the books for his age group. We need more books.”

Green candidate for Harwich and North Essex Peter Banks, added: “If opportunities arise in my engagement with the public and media I will be making the point that the Essex libraries (well, all libraries) must be kept fully open with professional staff along with investment to improve the book stock, computers and accessibility.”

For full questions and responses already received, visit the Save Our Libraries Essex Facebook page