IT could be the end of a chapter for Hampshire’s fleet of mobile libraries as county council chiefs look to cut costs.

Vans taking books to isolated areas, nursing homes and the housebound provide a service for some of the county’s most vulnerable people.

But council chiefs say visits have declined over the past ten years while costs have risen.

Proposals being considered include using more volunteers or fewer vehicles,monthly instead of fortnightly visits and fewer stops.

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The council says its mobile library service is one of the biggest in the country, with 19 vehicles making more than 1,200 stops.

Conservative council chiefs plan to launch a public consultation on the future shape of the service on Monday.

Customers, staff, managers of residential homes, district and parish councils will be asked for their views.

The consultation comes after 58 full-time equivalent posts in the main library service were axed earlier this year in a bid to balance the budget.

A report by Nicola Horsey, director of culture, communities and rural affairs, said: “The service in its current format is neither efficient nor sustainable and some difficult decisions will need to be made.”

Ms Horsey said the service needed to cut costs by eight per cent next year.

All the mobile vehicles are on ten-year leases and seven are due to end by March 2011 with a further two in 2012.

The report said visits to the mobile library service are down from 266,000 a year in 2005 to 204,000 in 2010 – a fall of 23 per cent.

Meanwhile book issues have plunged by 35 per cent from 888,000 in 2005 to 543,000 in 2010.

The mobile library service has 11 vehicles visiting rural areas, four going to nursing and residential homes and three delivering books to sheltered accommodation and the housebound.

In addition, one van visits playgroups and children’s centres in low literacy areas including Havant, Fareham and Gosport.

Staff also visit care home residents in their own rooms and deliver a box of books to each home two or three times a year.

Proposals under consideration include volunteers carrying out the room visits, charging nursing homes for boxes or scrapping deposit collections.

Councillor Margaret Snaith- Tempia is due to consider the report on Monday.

She said: “In reviewing the mobile library service we will be ensuring that the service still reaches isolated rural communities, priority areas of child deprivation, pre-school and children’s centres, residential and nursing homes, sheltered housing where public transport links are poor and individuals who are housebound.”