A MAJOR public consultation on cutting opening hours at 38 county libraries received more than 6,000 responses, a council has revealed.

Facing cuts of nearly £190m by 2017, Labour-led Durham County Council launched a three-month consultation on cutting opening times to 36 hours a week at 11 town centre libraries and 20 hours a week at 27 community branches.

Mobile library services would also be cut back, in a bid to save about £1.5m a year.

Up to 250 library staff could be affected. With consultations closed on Friday, council chiefs have confirmed that more than 6,000 people took part in the exercise.

Gerald Tompkins, the council’s head of social inclusion, said: “It’s extremely important to us that we understand how proposed changes to library opening hours might impact on local people.

“We will now begin the task of carefully examining all the feedback before a decision is made by cabinet in July.

“Many people will be aware that the proposals are designed to ensure that all our libraries remain open, despite very large reductions in Government grants.

“I would also like to assure everyone that if and when any changes are implemented the council will continue to work with communities to ensure the impact on local people is kept to a minimum.

“For example, by offering communities the chance to influence the pattern of opening hours at their local library.”

Local campaigns have sprung up across the county aimed at protecting branch opening hours.

Simon Barron, a Durham resident and North-East representative of the Voices for the Library campaign, said: “In difficult economic times, public libraries and public access to information are more important than ever.

“Libraries provide access to books and learning materials at a time when schools’ budgets are being slashed, when working families cannot afford reading material for children and when people need a source of free education.

“As well as this, there is an estimated 23 per cent of the population who do not have access to the internet at home and therefore they rely on shared resources such as libraries to provide access to job websites, communicate with others and reach information sources.”

Final decisions on any changes are expected to be taken by the council’s Labour cabinet in July.