LIBRARIES across Hampshire have seen a "massive surge" in the number of people using their digital services amid the coronavirus outbreak, civic chiefs have revealed.

Hampshire County Council (HCC) has seen a 770 percent increase in people joining the digital service to access their favourite books using Borrowbox - an app offering thousands of free audio-book and ebook titles.

Now a Test Valley community leader is urging the county council to save ten libraries across Hampshire from being axed, claiming there is "a need for these services in the community".

This comes after cllr Alan Dowden, who represents Valley Park on the borough council, branded the plans to chop the number of libraries across the county from 48 to 38 a "kick in the teeth", as HCC aims to save £1.76m by 2021.

Among the ten libraries that could be chopped is North Baddesley Community Library, which is in the ward which Cllr Dowden represents.

Mr Dowden said: "People will be reading more books at the moment because they have more time, so there is obviously a need for libraries if people are using the digital service.

"The council will try to use this as a fact that people can read online, but libraries are also a meeting place and it allows people of all ages to have chats with others and they become a community spot, which is very important.

"Libraries will continue to be important and I have suggested 78 county councillors should give up £500 of their allowance to save the North Baddesley and three other community libraries."

He added: "It would be tragic if they closed, because the libraries are also used by the infant and junior schools, but I am hopeful they will be kept open - at the very least the four community libraries.

"The volunteers at these libraries have saved the county a lot of money over the years, so what sort of example is that to the public for these people who have done to a lot of hard work only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them?"

County bosses have also proposed all 48 council-run libraries could remain open, but that would mean that they will all have their opening hours reduced by 25 percent.

The county council said the impact on staff would also depend on the number of closures, but between 40 to 50 jobs could be at risk.

A final decision on the proposal is expected to be made in summer 2020, followed by a further consultation on opening hours.

Changes would be implemented in autumn 2020.

Hampshire County Council’s executive member for recreation and heritage, cllr Seán Woodward, said: “Following the ten week public consultation on the future of County Council-run libraries, officers are now analysing more than 21,000 responses. "No decisions will be made until the analysis is complete and I have fully considered it at a decision day.

"This had been timetabled for June 2020 but due to the coronavirus pandemic has been postponed and will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

“Meanwhile, we are delighted that so many people – both existing and new customers – are taking up our digital offer of e-books, audiobooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers, and enjoying the fantastic digital library resources we offer at this unprecedented time.”