LIBRARIANS across Southampton are being balloted on strike action over Tory plans to replace them with volunteers.

A walkout could see the closure of most of the city’s 11 libraries as two thirds of the 95 or so staff are members of the union proposing action.

Unison said it was objecting to plans by the ruling Tory group to replace six full-time staff with volunteers.

The union claims that will mean at least one of the city’s libraries being run entirely by volunteers.

Unison regional organiser Andy Straker said: “There is real anger from our members over this issue. They feel that management and councillors are devaluing their skills and experience.

“The fact that they believe they can just take people off the street to do our members’ work is an insult.

“Our members have given years of service to Southampton City Council and to be treated in this way is a disgrace. We believe that the inevitable consequences of these actions will be a worsening in service to the public.”

He added: “if the council needs to make savings by cutting wages and employing volunteers then I suggest they start with councillors.”

Library boss councillor John Hannides said the introduction of a new self-booking system to allow borrowers to check out and reserve their own books, CDs and DVDs, reduced the need for the same level of trained librarians.

He added: “This ballot is symbolic of how unions will stand in the way of modernisation. I regret any kind of action that may damage our services.”

The council spent £468,000 rolling out self-service machines to six libraries.

The council claims they will free up librarians to offer people one-to-one help, while axing seven and a half full time equivalent library posts will save it £137,000.

The plans have come under attack from some borrowers, particularly the elderly, who want real people to help them rather than machines.

The industrial action ballot will run from May 17 until June 7.