BIG cuts in library opening hours across south Wiltshire are being planned with the aim of saving £505,000 a year within two years.

Mere’s service could be reduced from 45 hours a week to just 14, and Amesbury’s from 42 to 33.

Downton and Wilton could see their opening hours halved.

Durrington, Ludgershall, Netheravon and Tisbury will only keep their libraries if volunteers can be found to man them with the aid of five hours’ expert support a week. Otherwise residents will have to rely on mobile libraries.

Salisbury’s central library will get off relatively lightly, losing only two of its 55 hours, while Tidworth’s service will be unchanged.

Some librarians will lose their jobs and the rest will be expected to work more flexibly.

And Wiltshire Council intends to spend £546,000 on the latest self-service technology, enabling borrowers to check books in and out, claiming the investment will pay for itself in 18 months.

And it promises “a high quality online service, accessible from home as well as from libraries” so that people can order books and get them delivered, or download electronic books.

They will even be able to use the system to pay for parking permits.

The new opening hours will be those when demand is currently highest. But if enough volunteers come forward, any library will be able to stay open for longer.

Cabinet member John Thomson said: “We are trying to preserve the library network. It’s particularly important in a big rural county such as Wiltshire. But we will need some help. And we will make sure communities have professional help to do the job properly.

“We would like to see better use made of library buildings in other ways too, which would benefit communities – perhaps for homework clubs. We hope to have the new structure in place by September.”

Almost half the county’s population – 220,416 people – are library members. Between them last year they made more than 2 million library visits, borrowing almost 3 million items.

A report to Cabinet members, who will vote on the plans on Tuesday, says the 21 libraries that will still be run by the council account for 97 per cent of these visits.

Mr Thomson added that Wiltshire’s cuts are far less drastic than those in neighbouring Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the library service can find out more by phoning 01225 713706 or visiting