PROTESTERS will take to the streets in a day of action calling for libraries across Essex to be protected.

Last year, Essex County Council backtracked on its plan to close 25 of the county’s libraries after a fierce backlash from campaigners.

The authority pledged not to close any libraries for five years and to pump £3million of investment into the service.

It still hopes to set up community-run libraries.

But campaign group Sole – Save Our Libraries Essex – fears the authority is pushing ahead with a “closure by stealth” policy.

Today groups across Essex will stage a day of action.

Protesters will gather outside Colchester Library at 11am for a rally. Another rally will take place in Chelmsford from 12noon.

A spokesman for Sole said: “People power achieved so much last year in preventing the immediate closure of a third of Essex’s libraries.

“However, a closure plan by stealth remains, as proposals to sell off library buildings, get rid of paid staff and have volunteers house and run libraries are unsustainable.

“So we continue to campaign and to protest to further raise awareness that we still have much to do in 2020 to keep Essex’s libraries safe.”

The day of action comes as Sole slammed County Hall for removing library staff perks. Staff were previously exempt from fines for overdue items and charges on CDs and DVDs.

Andrew Coburn, a qualified librarian who campaigns for SOLE, said: “The only privileges that staff had have now been removed.

“Apart from anything else, the entitlement allowed staff to examine new books and DVDs more freely, which in turn helped them to further advise library users.

“It seems a petty step to take. It will result in little extra income for the council and is another blow at staff morale which must be low enough with everything else that is going on.”

A County Hall spokesman said: “Library customers are expected to pay a charge when the items they have borrowed are not returned to their library by the due date.

“It would, therefore, not be fair for any of staff to benefit from a concession relating to these charges.”

“If items are reserved by staff for free and if overdue charges for staff are waived, this would means library customers have less access to our stock or have to wait longer for it.”

to press.