The Library Campaign has called for the government to do more to secure the facilities' future after the Covid-19 crisis. Campaigner Tim Coates has also highlighted new threats to the service, and called for fresh measures.
The warnings come as libraries have been given the go-ahead to reopen on 4th July as lockdown eases.
They follow reports that cash-strapped Leeds City Council could close all its libraries and replace them with an online service, although the local authority says no decision has been made. In Peterborough, meanwhile, the Vivacity Leisure Trust is handing control of the local authority's libraries back to the council after the lockdown devastated its finances.
The Library Campaign is now demanding the government protects libraries and says that an online-only service would not fulfil councils' statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient service to all.
In evidence sent to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Select Committee working group on libraries re-opening, the campaign stressed the coronavirus had put libraries in “great danger”.
It said: “Government needs to grasp the nettle. Libraries are not funded sufficiently to make up the deficit in all the other public services.....The government has (rightly) spent many billions on supporting individual workers and businesses. A tiny fraction of this sum would safeguard public libraries. Their loss would be a social and educational catastrophe.
“The long-term implications thus go well beyond matters of government help in devising safe ways to reopen. Realistic financial support for local government will be key.”
It also questioned the make-up of DCMS group, with representatives from local council libraries outnumbered by those from volunteers and trusts.
In a separate warning, library campaigner Tim Coates has also said some councils could struggle to reopen their public libraries following the crisis.
Coates, former m.d of Waterstones, is calling for government officials to meet with council leaders,and for one standard national library management system and also a buying consortium to negotiate standard supply and licence terms.
In an email to library groups this week he said: “The purpose of much of this is to remove the need for the cost of individual management structures and functions within councils, so that such funds as are available can be concentrated on the front line service to the public."
He added: “There is now a real risk of losing a large number of public libraries, and it simply will not be satisfactory to complain to councils or government that they should have found the money, when there are actions that could be taken centrally to mitigate the situation, and aren't being.”
According to the Local Government Association, local authorities face a combined shortfall of around £6bn this year due to falls in revenue from sources such as tax, parking fees and public transport while having to ramp up social care spending during the lockdown.