Libraries across Essex will begin to reopen next month.

Essex County Council has announced a phase reopening of sixteen sites from Monday, July 6.

The announcement follows calls from Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) warning against ‘stealth library closures’ following lockdown.

The reopening schedule has been tailored to an expected increase in travel as non-essential shops begin to open during Mid-June.

The county council says further library sites will re-open as they are made safe and ready, and staff are available “with as many as possible opening by mid-August”.

All libraries will be risk assessed before they reopen with social distancing measures in place.

SOLE have ramped up pressure on the council to reopen all libraries when it is safe to so.

A spokesperson for the campaign group said: “Essex County Council must not use the lockdown as an excuse to not reopen the threatened libraries. When it is safe to do so libraries must reopen in their pre-lockdown library buildings with pre-lockdown staffing levels.

“Plans to sell off local library buildings, get rid of the paid and trained staff, and have smaller local libraries housed and run by volunteers is a closure plan by stealth.”

Councillor Susan Barker, cabinet member for customer, corporate, culture and communities said: "We are keen to re-open libraries when we can, but libraries are open access public areas and the safety of customers and staff is paramount. More libraries will re-open when we are confident we can do so safely.

“We would encourage everyone to continue to use the online library resources which have proved to be a big hit with the residents of Essex in these uncertain times.”

To begin with, the service offered will be limited, ECC has warned.

Customers will be able to return and borrow books, as well as have some limited time to browse the shelves.

The number of customers allowed in a library at any one time will need to be reduced to help people stay safe.

From Monday, July 6 sixteen sites will re-open; Basildon*, Billericay, Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Dunmow, Epping, Harlow, Harwich, Maldon, Rayleigh, Rochford, South Benfleet and Witham.

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