UNION leaders are working on a rescue plan to save Darlington's libraries from closure amid claims such services are becoming an "endangered species".

Unison has hit out at Darlington Borough Council's proposal to move the Crown Street Library into the Dolphin Centre, and close Cockerton Library and the mobile library service, saying it does not make financial sense.

The Northern Echo has launched a campaign urging the council to think again before closing the town centre library with hundreds of readers already putting their names to the appeal.

Unison regional organiser, Duncan Rothwell, said the Government's public service cuts meant UK libraries were "fast becoming an endangered species of public service" with more than 100 libraries shutting last year and at least 441 having closed in the last five years.

He added: "Unison’s Darlington Branch is working with its members to put forward proposals for income generation and savings to assist the provision of these much needed services in Darlington.

“Our libraries serve a social and educational need. They also provide necessary digital and internet facilities for our community.”

“Threatening libraries’ future goes against the council’s desire to move to signpost people to services and enable them access its services online.”

“The cost of the council proposal to move the Crown Street Library into the Dolphin Centre has risen to an estimated £1.1m. This proposal does not make financial sense: it will cost more than it will save.”

But Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for leisure and local environment, whose portfolio includes libraries, said that far from costing the council money, the proposed relocation of Crown Street Library would save £330,000 a year between now and 2020.

He added: "There will be a significant increase to opening hours if the library moves to the Dolphin Centre – from 49 hours per week to 63 hours per week.

"A shared library in a building visited by 800,000 people a year offers the best chance of reversing the decline in the number of books being issued from Crown Street library.”

The public will be able to have its say on the library closure plans at two public meetings on Wednesday, March 23.

Cllr Wallis said it was important the proposal was discussed and public’s views were taken into account.

He said: “I am encouraging people to come along to one or other of these events to share their views on the proposals.

“In an era when library usage in general is in decline, we need a library service that is accessible and attractive to the younger generation.”

The first public meeting will be held in the Dolphin Centre’s central hall at 2.30pm, while the second will be at Cockerton Methodist Church at 6pm.

To back the Echo's call for Darlington Borough Council to rethink its plans to close the Crown Street Library, fill in the voucher and send to The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF.

Alternatively, visit thenorthernecho.co.uk to fill in an on-line version of the voucher.

More than 9,200 people have now signed a petition launched as part of a separate Echo campaign to push for a Parliamentary debate on the crippling cuts in grant facing Darlington Borough Council.

To sign the petition, visit northernecho.co.uk/saveourtown