THE controversial closure of five Bolton libraries has led to a massive drop in borrowing across the borough.

Bolton Council axed a third of its 15 libraries between January and April this year — Astley Bridge, Oxford Grove, Heaton, Highfield, and Castle Hill — to save £407,000 as part of a wider £60 million package of spending cuts.

Now, the first council report published on the impact of the closures has been submitted to the Government and has revealed that borrowing fell by almost a fifth.

The report revealed that borrowing from Bolton’s libraries fell by 19 per cent between April and September, compared to the same period in 2011, while the number of library visitors fell by 14 per cent.

The closures brought a storm of criticism and protests from residents and trade unions, as well as from author Philip Pullman and comedian Dave Spikey.

To offset the impact of the closures, the council brought in measures such as extra opening hours, a new online inquiry service, the Ask Bolton Libraries inquiry service and five neighbourhood book collection points.

Town Hall bosses said visitor and borrowing figures were falling nationally and, although borrowing and visitor numbers are down, the remaining 10 libraries have seen only small like-for-like drops in use compared to last year.

Visitors at the remaining libraries fell by one per cent and loans by three per cent.

The number of people using computers in Bolton libraries has decreased by three per cent overall since the closures, but the 10 remaining libraries have seen a nine per cent increase compared to the same time last year.

Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris said: “Reorganising the library network was a difficult and controversial task and one we were reluctant to carry out.

“However, faced with cuts of £60 million over two years, we had to look at savings of £400,000 from this service.

“We said at the start that we would conduct reviews at six, 12 and 18 months to establish just how successful we had been at limiting any negative impact.”

The council said opening neighbourhood collection points and extending opening hours had proved popular, with an extra 13,000 visitors to the Central Library in the town centre between April and September.

Of that number, 8,000 people borrowed from the library and nearly 3,000 hours were spent on the computers.

The number of children borrowing from the Central Library increased by 17 per cent and the Summer Reading Challenge — which is aimed at children and operates across the borough — saw an increase of 13 per cent in participants completing the six week programme.

Since the decision was announced, a group’s drive to fight the closures — the Save Bolton Libraries Campaign — has sought legal advice and sent a 30-page dossier to the Government.

Secretary Ian McHugh said: “We recognise Bolton Libraries are doing their best with the limited resources they are allowed and pleased to see the increased usage of Central Library and IT services.

“However, this cannot disguise the alarming drop off in visits and books loaned in such a short space of time.”