Losing yourself in a book is one of life's great pleasures.

Reading opens up new worlds whether you're five or 95.

That's why throughout my leadership of the county council, I've been determined not to close our static libraries as so many other local authorities have done.

But the figures are stark. When I took over the county council in 2009, our library budget was £12 million. Throughout the years of austerity, Covid and the cost of living crisis, that budget has shrunk to £8 million.

But we started out with 50 static libraries across Devon and we still have 50 libraries thanks to our innovative partnership with Libraries Unlimited.

During last year's winter fuel crisis our libraries were even more vital for many residents,  opening for longer and providing warm spaces where people could socialise.

 So it was with a heavy heart that I and my Cabinet had to decide to close our mobile library service. But again, the figures are stark.

 We've a population of some 815,000 people across Devon. Less than 3,000 people use the mobile libraries.

 Nearly three quarters of the stops attract less than five people and over the last 10 years there's been a 73 per cent reduction in visits and a 68 per cent reduction in book issues. Every book borrowed from a mobile library costs more than twice as much as one borrowed from our static libraries.

The four library vehicles are close to becoming obsolete and are increasingly off the road for repairs and maintenance. It would cost over £637,000 to buy replacements and even more - £799,000 - to lease vehicles for five years.

And on top of that are the annual running costs. This at a time when our overall county council budget is under severe strain from increased demand for children's and adult services and a cost of living crisis that affects local authorities as much as your individual household.

Let me be absolutely clear though. We are not proposing to close any of our static libraries and we are not going to leave the 3,000 mobile library borrowers in the lurch.

We already have schemes such as the Home Library Service which delivers books to people unable to get to a library through health, mobility or caring responsibilities and the Good Neighbours scheme where friends, neighbours and family can collect books for people who are housebound. We will look to expand these.

We've also been talking to organisations like Devon Communities Together and the Devon Association of Local Councils about working with town and parish councils on developing and extending community libraries which already exist in many villages and which Libraries Unlimited could supply stock for.

We're planning networking events for parishes and community libraries to share best practice and hear from library and community development advocates and we're creating a support resource for community libraries signposting best practice, development advice and ideas around funding and commercial opportunities.

And we're making some funding available to help the process.

We've already had very positive and productive discussions with organisations which run buildings and social activities and clubs in our rural communities. Many of them have existing book swap provision in parish and community halls where there is no current mobile library stop.

There's also an emerging network of community libraries across Devon from small informal bring and borrow schemes to thriving and formal independent libraries, with regular stock updates and access to wider services.

We will be offering them opportunities to link with the library service which can provide access to more stock, its on-line offer and other council and government services.