New opening hours in Barnet libraries have come into effect, with some being staffed for only 15 hours a week or closed until the summer.

Libraries across the borough have been fitted with self-service machines, meaning while the libraries themselves are open, the staffing hours have been reduced dramatically.

Childs Hill Library, which is reopening this week as a partnership library, will only have 15 hours of staffed hours due to the new partnership scheme, which will see community and voluntary groups staffing the service.

Branch Secretary of Barnet Unison John Burgess said: “What was once one of the finest public Library Services in the UK is about to undergo a transformation that will see it left in ruins.”

He added: “It is likely that many current and potential library users, particularly children, will find Barnet Libraries hard to access, information and advice difficult to come by, containing very little study space and the range of stock and services a shadow of what was once on offer.

“This is likely to lead to a decline in use and an excuse by the council to close libraries.”

Partnership libraries will received a tapered grant beginning at £35,000 in the first year and £25,000 in the third, before support is reduced to a maximum £8,000 loan facility for new groups.

Community groups partnering with the libraries need to give 15 hours minimum of staffed hours, while self-service hours require for residents to obtain an access pin code.

Resident Keith Martin said: "As a resident, I feel that the changes affect the library services adversely to the concept of putting the community first - Barnet Council's mantra."

He added: "Staff are important within the libraries as opposed to self-service machines because they can communicate, resolve queries and take action.

"Machines are helpless outside their comfort zone."

Mr Martin also described several instances where he has attempted to make contact with councillors and MPs on this issues, but only received "curt" responses.

Plans also include an “enhanced digital library” and self-service opening hours for core libraries, which will not include those part of the partnership scheme.

Some libraries will remain closed for some time as part of the new plans, such as Chipping Barnet, which will be closed from 5 June to 9 October, Hendon, which will be closed until after the summer holidays, and Edgware, which will be closed from 1 May to 21 August.

Barnet Council have said their decision followed "extensive consultation" and the majority of their costs being in staffing, but they will have helpers on hand during self-service hours over the next few weeks.

Chairman of Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee Cllr Reuben Thompstone said: “During staffed hours, there is no change to the way children can access the library and children can make use of the new extended opening hours when accompanied by an adult.

He added: “Our libraries are part of a universal and unique service that offers learning opportunities to all from early years through to retirement.

"Our ongoing ambition is for libraries to continue helping all children in Barnet to have the best start in life: developing essential language, literacy and learning skills as well as a love of reading from an early age.”

For more information on opening hours visit the council website.