IT has been officially named Scotland's Book Town and has played host to an internationally recognised festival of reading for more than a decade.

But now a war of words has broken out between council bosses, authors and organisers of the Wigtown Book Festival after plans were unveiled to slash the number of hours the town's only library stays open each day.

Dumfries and Galloway Council has come under fire after it said it intends to switch Wigtown library from a full-time service that stays open 40-and-a-half hours a week to one that is available for 17.5 hours.

A petition launched on the internet attracted hundreds of signatures within a few hours, while authors and members of the public called for the library service to remain unchanged.

Wigtown has gained a reputation as Scotland's capital of literature, and it is estimated that the library was used by more than 40,000 visitors last year.

Book festival director Adrian Turpin branded the council's proposal "myopic" and said that the public book resource was a valued and used by the whole community.

Mr Turpin said: "The council has supported the book festival and shown vision which has been admirable. But by cutting the library's opening hours they are threatening to undermine all that.

"We are trying to attract people from all over Scotland, and these are people who want to come to Wigtown because they want to be surrounded by the culture of literature.

"So this is a terrible message to send out to people and a retro-grade step. If this could happen somewhere that's recognised as a book town, who knows what will happen elsewhere."

Author and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch said: "It is a bit ironic that this has been announced almost on the eve of Burns Night when we are supposed to be celebrating literature.

"At a time when literature and culture is resurgent in Scotland, an act which would nip this in the bud is pretty hard to fathom.

"It's not even about the book festival. Look at the numbers coming through the door; most councils would say that 40,000 visitors a year is pretty good going. You suspect there is a bean counter somewhere who has made this decision, but has never even been to Wigtown."

Now in its 16th year, the Wigtown Book Festival is held each autumn and attracts thousands of visitors to more than 180 events.

Previous speakers include bestselling crime author Ian Rankin, TV star Joanna Lumley and novelist William McIlvanney.

Alongside the festival, the town boasts about 20 booksellers and is promoted at home and abroad as Scotland's home of literature.

Roald Dhal Award-winning children's author Philip Ardagh branded the plan to cut the library's opening hours "crazy", while Scottish nature photographer Polly Pullar said: "This would be a seriously retrograde step for a town that is having, at long last, a wonderful revival and all down to books."

The plan was also criticised by Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, who said: "We do a huge amount of work with libraries and are against any closures or cuts to services. This decision seems especially absurd given that it is proposed for Scotland's national book town."

A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said that it had begun a review of library services and was currently consulting with members of the public on how they would be delivered in future.

Councillor Ronnie Nicholson, chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, said: "Our integrated libraries are at the heart of our communities, delivering vital services."