LIBRARY campaigners criticised county council talks with a US firm which claims it can save at least some of the 20 branches under threat.

Councillors voted through £2m-a-year cuts to the library service on Tuesday, but negotiations are still going on with outsourcing company Library Systems and Service (LSSI).

Council bosses contacted LSSI earlier this month, after the Oxford Mail revealed the firm believed it could save millions of pounds while scaling back branch closures.

County council leader Keith Mitchell said discussions were “positive” and saving money through outsourcing rather than closing branches would be “a wonderful solution.”

LSSI, which runs 70 libraries in the USA, will set out potential savings to the council next week.

But groups opposing council cuts said outsourcing would destroy the library service.

Jonathan Hood, chairman of the Friends of Summertown Library, said campaigners had been contacted by Californian activists opposed to LSSI taking over libraries in the state.

The American campaigners claim outsourcing to LSSI had led to declines in service and resources, charges for inter-library loans, and worse terms and conditions for staff.

Mr Hood said: “We are concerned at the fact the council is even talking to LSSI.

“At the moment, Summertown Library is a community resource where people go to meet or just sit in the garden.

“These are not going to be things LSSI would be keen to fund.

“Under an outsourcing firm, it may remain an efficient system for borrowing books, but libraries are far more than that.”

Neil Clark, of Save Botley Library, said: “The whole ethos of the library service would change if a private company ran it to make profits rather than as a public service.

“Outsourcing would mean losing branches and the end of the library service as we know it.”

LSSI UK’s vice president Stuart Fitzgerald said: “We are library people. It is all we do. If they speak to any of our clients in the US, and ask about how we run the service, they will be blown away.

“When we take over a branch, we get a surge in membership, a surge in usage and a surge in issues.”

He said LSSI could introduce new IT systems, print machines for self-publishing, coffee bars and more flexible buildings so other services could be offered out-of-hours.

He added: “We directly involve local people in their service.

“Our position is to give the community exactly what they want.”

Mr Fitzgerald said he was happy to meet campaign groups to discuss their libraries’ future.