Libraries are suffering as the institutions across West Country have been worse hit by the Government cut-backs than anywhere else in the country – and it is volunteers who are keeping them open.
The South West faced one of the largest percentage reductions in total expenditure on libraries of any region in the UK between 2012-13, according to a new survey.
The region saw a 4.3 per cent reduction in total expenditure, while also seeing a net loss of seven libraries in 2012-13, a 1.9 per cent drop.
Truro library, in Cornwall, was the most visited in the South West with 473,376 visitors in the year, followed by Salisbury library with 431,577 visitors and Swindon's Central Library with 406,751 visitors.
The survey was issued by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy which stresses that councils are looking at new ways of keeping libraries open as cuts in public spending continue to bite.
The total number of staff employed nationally in 2012-2013 was 20,302, a 6.8 per cent drop on the year before. The total number of volunteers is up 44.5 per cent to 33,808.
Speaking on the UK-wide data released today by CIPFA on libraries in the UK, CIPFA's chief executive Rob Whiteman said: "Local authorities across the UK have worked hard over the past few years to identify savings and reduce their spending but now also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public.
"While the number of libraries and staff has fallen again, this has slowed. However the surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new ways to engage and serve their communities."
In November, campaigners fighting against cuts to libraries in Swindon said the whole service could fall apart after council chiefs confirmed another £300,000 had to be saved from the service budget next year.
Some £50,000 of book stock will be saved, management "streamlined" and there will be fewer activities taking place as part of the savings.
But the Save Old Town Library group said the service had already seen cuts every year for the past few years, and there was little left to shave off spending.
Gloucestershire and Somerset had to backtrack on highly controversial decisions to withdraw funding from a total of 21 libraries after legal challenges by campaigners in 2010.
Since then Somerset County Council has set up a library review programme to achieve £850,000 worth of savings over three years. Three principles were established for a resigned service – that services should be provided on the basis of need, demand and value for money; that libraries should be community hubs, and that services should be responsive to and supported by their local communities.
Self-service kiosks have been installed in some libraries, and on December 6 Porlock becamed the fist community supported library in Somerset. The county council worked with Porlock Parish Council and recruited 25 volunteers who now help run it.