Last month, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, wrote to 15 local councils demanding they improve their library services. He warned six, which were considering closing libraries or drastically reducing opening hours, that they could face a full investigation.
It is the first time since the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act, which states that local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, that a Secretary of State has intervened to prevent councils from cutting their public library services.
His intervention has led to a U-turn in several councils' plans. Barnsley, which was considering closing all 23 of its branch libraries, said yesterday it had closed three and had replaced them with a mobile service.
A spokeswoman for Surrey County Council, which was said to have been planning to close 25 smaller branch libraries, said that none would now close, and Brent, Lambeth, Islington and Haringey councils, all in London, have dropped or delayed their plans for reducing library spending.
However, Camden council is pressing ahead with plans to close three libraries, despite a public outcry and a campaign by London writers and celebrities. Joan Bakewell, Deborah Moggach, Ben Elton and Harry Enfield are among those who have complained about the plans to close Kilburn, Belsize Park and Chalk Farm libraries.
They have backed a formal complaint that is due to be delivered to the Government later today and which, they hope, will lead to a formal inquiry forcing the council to find money to keep libraries open for longer hours, with a supply of new books and a request service.
Yesterday regular users at Kilburn Library said its loss would be a huge blow. Marilyn Grant, a grandmother and childminder, who was visiting the library with four children, said libraries were a useful educational tool for children. "They can play here and learn to respect books. If this closes and they have to go further afield, their parents may not have the time to take them and they won't be able to go on their own so they will lose out," she said.
Varsha Vyse, who goes to the library twice a week, said: "If this closes I will go to another library but it is not so convenient because I can walk here which is great with two small children. I will go far less often - perhaps only once every few weeks."
A Camden council spokesman said the plan to close the libraries was part of a campaign to improve local services.Reuse content