THE ‘long-term decline’ of public libraries in South Lakeland is to be examined by a group of councillors.

Cumbria County Council said the stark drop in usage was a national issue being felt locally.

Five councillors from its South Lakeland Local Committee have formed a working group to look at the options for modernising the service.

But the authority insisted the options on the table were not money-saving measures.

Jim Grisenthwaite, author of the council’s ‘Library Service Review - Next Steps for South Lakeland’ report, said: “It’s a sad fact that the use of libraries across the country has been in decline for quite some time.

”In Cumbria, this is quite stark; we have lost around 20 per cent of our custom.

“There are now far more readier sources of information, music and film than a local library - it’s possible with a mobile phone to get a lot of information in one’s hand.”

Mr Grisenthwaite said he did not think libraries had ‘had their day’ but he said the service should be more widely promoted to boost use.

The council’s consultation found that people felt local libraries were ‘social hubs that offered more than just books’.

Following the consultation, ideas to shape the service’s future include: ‘Library Link’ - providing remote communities with cost-effective access to library services; Community Librarian - taking books into hard-to-reach or disadvantaged communities; The Friends’ Group - encouraging greater participation in libraries, books and reading; and Shared Service Provision - promoting the range of services on offer at libraries, reviewing opening hours, improving online services and generating income from audio and visual products.

The working group will look at the results of the consultation in detail before reporting back to the committee next Spring.

In April this year, The Westmorland Gazette revealed that 18 rural libraries in Cumbria - more than a third altogether - could close as a result of the modernisation.

Cumbria County Council said offering a book ordering service via computers at local shops and pubs, as an alternative to maintaining a traditional library, was one option.

And it revealed that libraries which opened fewer than 20 hours a week, including Sedbergh, Shap and Askam-in-Furness, might close to fund hi-tech enhancements, such as free Skype points, at major centres.

Mr Grisenthwaite added: “We want to find a way of re-engaging with the public to try and take the service to them.

”It’s about modernising, not saving money, and trying to find out why people aren’t using the service.”