RESEARCH into the future options for a closure-threatened library has begun, ahead of public consultation about whether the popular facility can be sustained by the community in years to come.

Council funding for Cockerton Library will come to an end in 2016, after which time it must be taken over by a volunteer group or face closure.

A previous proposal by Darlington Borough Council to close the library, one of only two in Darlington, sparked a huge campaign to save the facility, but this time reaction has been muted.

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To kick-start the debate on the future of the library beyond 2016, Councillor Nick Wallis, cabinet member for leisure and local environment, has set up a steering group with local ward councillors and other interested parties to look at possible options.

The group will look at the experiences of other local authorities where libraries have been taken over or supported by volunteer groups and put together a consultation document for the public outlining the proposed actions for Cockerton.

Coun Wallis said: “We need to give some thought to how we can mitigate the impact and how these services can continue to be provided, while recognising that there will be no council money for them from 2016.

“There is no right or wrong way of going about this. We want to look at what has worked elsewhere and what hasn’t worked. There are a whole range of ways other local authorities have gone about it.

“Some have reduced services with volunteers helping around the edges, while others have closed the library and handed over the building for a community group to run, and everything in between.

“When we go out to consult with the local community we want to do it on the back of some research and with some proposals to put to them.”

Coun Wallis said the research stage was not expected to take a long time before public consultation starts. Any new volunteer-led system would need to be up and running before the 2016 funding cut-off.

Steering groups have been set up to look at future options for the similarly threatened Head of Steam Museum and also for the town’s parks and street cleaning, which are facing huge budget cuts.