READERS in Bexley village will still have free access to library books, insists a senior council officer.

Bexley Village Library will offer three types of membership ranging from free to £75 a year when it comes under the control of community group Bexley Village Community Library (BVCL) this spring.

Bexley Council’s deputy director for leisure, arts and tourism Toni Ainge defended the council against criticism it will create a two-tier system.

Ms Ainge said: “The library is free and remains free. The fact there is the facility to buy into something that provides something more is free market choice, I would have thought.”

Paying £24 a year enables members to borrow more books and avoid late fees - which BVCL said deter many - as well as giving priority booking to events some free use on the computers and discounts at the library’s intended cafe.

A £75 a year Gold members will become patrons of the charity.

Chairman of Greener Bexley, which runs BVCL, Jonathan Rooks said he anticipates 100 people will join the £24 scheme in the first year, and another 200 the next.

A librarian will be seconded from Bexley Council and the library will be open another nine hours a week.

BVCL said it will invest in new stock, some of which will be stored off site, and will also seek book donations, although there will be no interlibrary loans – meaning people wanting books not in stock will have to travel to council-run libraries.

The hand-over will save Bexley Council £40,000 a year and Ms Ainge said she was ‘under no illusions that times are tough’, but said money was not the prime reason for the change.

Ms Ainge said: “The amount of revenue we actually save is very small.

“It was a genuine attempt to see if the Big Society would work in libraries. We were very clear that if the business plans did not stack up in terms of giving a good service to customers, we would not continue with it.”

She added that the council would have an open mind to similar schemes elsewhere, but remains committed to library provision - a new library is due to open in Crayford this summer, while libraries are also ‘on the cards’ for Thamesmead and Slade Green.