Essex County Council has insisted all of its libraries are “safe” and will be reopened and kept open as the country emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

The comments follow plans from campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) to organise a week of socially distanced marches against community libraries.

SOLE claim the community libraries – of which there are currently seven in the county – are a “closure plan by stealth.”

“Proposals to sell off many of the smaller, local, library buildings, get rid of the staff, and have these libraries run by volunteers are entirely unsustainable”, a spokesperson for SOLE said.

“It is a closure plan by stealth. Our week-long socially distanced march will visit many of these libraries which remain under threat.”

Between August 22 – 28, library campaigners will hold marches across the county with a main march converging on Chelmsford County Hall on Saturday, August 29.

A sole spokesperson said: “Our libraries need investment, not more cuts. Over the last ten years Essex County Council has already slashed the number of books by 470,000, and massively cut back on the opening hours If a book shop cut its book stock and its opening hours, it would go out of business. Essex County Council has set our libraries up to fail.

“As we emerge into these new and uncertain times, libraries will be needed more than ever, Where else will unemployed people be able to apply for benefits and look for jobs? Where else will people be able to find a new career, self-help, or solace in a book? This cultural vandalism must be stopped.”

The county council has reopened 69 libraries since the end of lockdown and has pledged to open the remaining five libraries in August.

A council spokesperson said: “Essex Libraries are safe. We’re keeping all libraries open.

“We are investing in libraries and responding to the diverse ways people now access reading material for information and pleasure for example, in response to popular demand, we have added e-comics and graphic novels to our e-library collection, which are proving really popular.”

Essex and Thurrock Libraries will also soon join The Libraries Consortium (TLC), the UK’s largest library consortium, giving users access to eight million items of stock.

The council also plans to invest in library self-service facilities to allow 24/7 access to stock.

The council spokesperson added: “We’ve already upgraded public computers in all 74 libraries and we have started putting in more attractive, modern energy efficient lighting.

“We have also introduced a library app, making it easier for customers to access the service, renew their items, or reserve a book. “We are proud of our dedicated library staff and will be investing in a whole programme of staff training over the next few years. We will also be one of the first authorities to start delivering the new library apprenticeship qualification.

“The library Strategy committed to keeping all libraries open. Rather than campaigning against a threat that doesn’t exist, we encourage everybody who loves libraries to use and enjoy them and get involved to make them vibrant community hubs.”

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