Devon’s mobile library service is to be scrapped because the county council says it can no longer afford to run it.

The council currently has four library vehicles, adapted for people with mobility or hearing problems, that visit 374 locations across Devon every month. In East Devon these include Sidford, Salcombe Regis, Beer, East Budleigh, West Hill, Cranbrook, Whimple, Feniton, Offwell and many other communities outside the district’s main towns.

But the vehicles – three of which are 15 years old – have become unreliable and expensive to maintain, and the county council says it cannot afford to replace them.

A consultation on the termination of the service is open until Friday, May 26, but it seems that the decision has already been made and the council is inviting suggestions on how people could access library services without the mobile vehicles.

Devon County Council says there has been a steep fall in the number of people using its mobile libraries – a decrease of 44 per cent in the last 10 years. Its figures show there were more than 161,000 loans from mobile libraries in 2012, with 5,546 active members, compared to around 51,000 loans in 2022 with 3,080 active members.

But Paul Sandy, a regular user of the mobile library service, says these figures are misleading. He has discovered that in 2012 there were eight library vehicles, presumably providing a much fuller service. The reduction to four vans in 2013-14 would have cut the number of users.

He also highlights the county council’s own statement that collectively, its library vehicles were off the road for 670 hours last year, largely because of ‘vehicle issues and maintenance’, making it impossible to provide a reliable service. This would also have reduced user numbers.

Mr Sandy said: “Worryingly, the proposal seems to take no account of the social impact of ending the mobile service, where people in small and often isolated rural communities have a reason to get out of the house to meet once a month. In addition, it is well known that many of those who visit the library borrow books for mobility-impaired or housebound friends, neighbours and relations to read. Thus the ‘active user’ count is certain to be significantly less than the number that benefit from the service.”

He is also concerned that the council does not seem to have looked into other options, such as leasing library vans instead of buying new ones or seeking grants and sponsorship to fund the service.

The county council’s rationale for ending the service, and the consultation document, can be found here: