THE number of paid library jobs across Worcestershire has plunged 49 per cent since 2010 - with hordes of volunteers taking their place.

New data has revealed how Worcestershire County Council has just 137 paid staff across its libraries compared to 272 six years ago.

The savage reduction in professional work has led to a huge rise in volunteers, which stands at a whopping 449 compared to 175 in 2010.

The rapid change, which has coincided with severe funding squeezes from central Government, has been described as "scandalous" from the opposition Labour Party.

But County Hall's Conservative leadership says the staffing reductions have been instrumental in ensuring no libraries have closed down, unlike most other parts of the country.

The findings, from Freedom of Information Act Requests to 207 local authorities nationwide, have revealed how 343 libraries have closed since 2010 and 8,000 library jobs have disappeared.

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, the council's cabinet member for localism and communities, said: "What it's meant is that we've been able to keep libraries open.

"We've had to take large sums of money out of the service and our excellent, fantastic volunteers have provided an added extra for us.

"They do things like meet-and-greets at The Hive, rhythm and bounce sessions with children, knitting classes - it actually means we've been able to do more with less.

"The volunteers get a lot out of it, I see this as a positive news story rather than a negative one.

"We've opened three new libraries in the last year and a new one at Bewdley is on its way."

Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: "It's absolutely scandalous, we predicted this would happen at the time.

"I'm certainly not surprised by this, we've got non-professionals doing all sorts of work now in libraries and I think it's shocking - it's stopping younger people getting a job."

Ian Anstice, who runs the Cheshire-based Public Libraries News website, has called the cuts across the country "without precedent".

"Councils learnt early on how unpopular simply closing libraries is so they've had to cut the vital service in other, less obvious ways," he said.

"It can come across in many forms, reduced opening hours, reduced book funds, reduced maintenance and reduced staffing."

Despite taking more than £2 million out of Worcestershire's libraries in recent years none of the 21 static sites have closed, with many of them getting by due to volunteer help and sharing space alongside other agencies.

But 13 months ago the authority did make controversial cuts to its mobile library service, deleting 38 per cent of its 420 stops and doing drop-offs once a month instead of every three weeks.

The £60 million gold-cladded Hive is one of the UK's busiest libraries and has helped the county's total book stock rise 13 per cent since 2010 to 770,159, as we revealed last month - a figure that surprised some politicians.  

The number of library closures across the country is higher than the Government's official estimate of 110.

The UK-wide findings were released following FOI requests from the BBC's English Regions data department.

* Big mobile library cuts confirmed in Worcestershire

* Raft of library changes revealed by Worcestershire County Council

* Worcestershire's great reading bonanza - council's stock of books surges 13% to 770,000

* We need to shed another £475,000 from libraries across Worcestershire, say council chiefs

* £700,000 racked up in library fines across Worcestershire - with 6,000 people still in debt