Campaigners have blasted the council for “abandoning its duty” over falling library stock.

Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) published figures obtained from a freedom of information request (FOI) showing the number of books at libraries across Essex had fallen drastically.

Between 2007/08 and 2017/18 nearly half a million books were cut in Essex, around a third of the overall total – 1,292,431 books last year, down from 1,765,358 ten years prior.

A spokesperson for SOLE said: “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 Essex County Council (ECC) has done.”

“Local history books and local studies books should be kept in local public libraries so the entire public can access them. To get rid of rare local history books altogether shows that Essex County Council [ECC] lacks a basic understanding of what a library is for, and that it is abandoning its duty to be guardians of important local historical documents. The cuts in general book stocks are shocking.”

Loughton Library saw a drop of books from 70,964 in 2007/08, to 41,804 in 2017/18.

Loughton resident, Alan Fricker, said: "As a Loughton Library user I have been shocked by the removal of books from the local stock.

“A library without decent book stock is unable to meet the needs of the town.”

Loughton and District Historical Society (LDHS) labelled the falling stock a “cull” and said the county-wide figures were a “great pity”.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “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. We remove books that aren’t being borrowed or are too damaged to lend and add new titles based on what we know of readers’ interests. 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, as well as irreplaceable titles available from our central store. Rare or out of stock books that are damaged or not being borrowed are usually sent back to our central store, rather than disposed of, so they are still available and we can repair books if needed.”

SOLE is staging a 'save our librarians - no closures by stealth' day of action on Saturday, January 25, with events across the county.