Library campaigners are forecasting a grim 2013, predicting that 300 libraries could close or be lost from local authority control in the next 12 months.
2012 saw 200 libraries shut according to figures from CIPFA, but many fear 2013 could be worse.
Phil Bradley, president of the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), said: "I feel that 2013 is going to be as bleak, if not bleaker than 2012.
"There will continue to be undue pressure placed on public library services throughout the rest of the year with them closing, reducing their opening hours and losing staff, despite the best efforts of campaign groups. Consequently people will visit libraries less, footfall and book borrowing will decline and this will be seen as a justification that the community didn’t need their library after all."
However, he said there were bright spots, with a possible increase in e-lending boosting reading and book buying, and he predicted that National Libraries Day would be bigger than ever before. He added: "People will still continue to value the importance of their library service and will continue to fight for them."
Janene Cox, president of the Society of Chief Librarians, anticipated changes in the role libraries would play, saying that a challenging period would encourage the most innovation.
She said: "I think it is definitely the most challenging era for all public services but I do think it is during these periods when you do see real innovation and creativity. I think continued challenging financial environment for all local authorities will mean the acceleration of different service models emerging – co-locations, community managed libraries, social enterprises, mutuals etc."
Cox described how libraries could become increasingly important as public health care changes, providing an opportunity for libraries to play a role delivering certain schemes in communities. She also added that Arts Council England’s "Envisioning the Library of the Future" project will help target areas for development, and predicted that the opening of the new Library of Birmingham in September will: "generate enormous interest and excitement - it should become a centre of excellence and hopefully realise a new scale of ambition and potential for city centre libraries".
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said it was difficult to be optimistic with 300 libraries at risk, but said: "Hopefully, as the reality of the situation becomes undeniable, those responsible for delivering a comprehensive and efficient public library service will come together with authors and campaigners to confront full on the crisis. I even dream that the public library service will start to get the leadership it so badly needs."
He agreed with Janene Cox that the Government’s Sieghart review could find a solution to allow people to borrow e-books from their library.
Author and library activist Alan Gibbons criticised libraries minister Ed Vaizey: "My prediction is that Ed Vaizey will continue to wash his hands of any duty of supervision of the public library service and that Labour authorities that should be organising resistance to the potential destruction of the service by a Government with a startlingly weak mandate will carry on imitating his Pontius Pilate routine."
So far this year, Gateshead has decided to transfer five libraries to volunteer groups, while York is considering passing its 13 libraries to a charitable body. Newcastle has proposed closing 10 of its 18 libraries as it looks to make budget savings.