COUNCILLORS have agreed to close 16 libraries in one Scottish local authority area as part of a cost-cutting measure.

The closures agreed in Fife have raised fresh concerns that libraries may be a soft target for cuts as councils face up to half a billion pounds of cuts in the coming year.

The move came after the council run a consultation exercise which saw thousands of people responding and four petitions against closures received. Although a survey showed opinion was fairly even split on the proposal overall, 61 per cent of library users disagreed with the plan.

More than 25 full-time equivalent library staff will lose their jobs in the first half of next year, 15 of them frontline workers, as a direct result of the decision. It takes the number of libraries in Fife from 51 to 35.

It comes a fortnight after some of Scotland’s most high-profile authors put their names to a petition to the Scottish Government calling for protection of libraries in schools.

Novelists Val McDermid, James Robertson, Christopher Brookmyre and Alan Bissett all signed the ‘save Scotland’s school libraries’ petition, which was heard by the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee.

MSPs heard pupils are now subject to a "postcode lottery" in regards to the level of school library service they receive, widening inequalities between schools.

In October, it emerged Argyll and Bute Council had a proposal to make all of its school librarians redundant over the next three years.

It was estimated more than half a dozen Scottish councils have passed or are considering budgets which would remove school librarians or drastically curtail their roles.

The Literature Alliance Scotland in responding to the proposals in August said: "Scotland has long been known for its strong support for public libraries and school libraries, and for the public’s regard for the excellent network of libraries that has already been created for all of us who live here.

"Despite the financial pressures at this point, we believe that it is crucial that we should try to preserve the best of what has been cultivated over many generations and combine this with the tools of the digital age."

Scotland's libraries are more popular than any other part of the UK, with 61 per cent of the public using libraries in Scotland, higher than in England and Wales, and they receive over 28 million visits each year, with a further 13.8 million virtual visits.

The Fife library closures will involve Abbeyview, Bowhill, Colinsburgh, Crail, Crossgates, East Wemyss, Falkland, Freuchie, Glenwood and Kinghorn.

Libraries in Lundin Links, Markinch, Pittenweem, Pitteuchar, Thornton and Townhill are also to close.

Fife Cultural Trust, which runs services on behalf of the council, had been looking for ways to save £813,000 – on top of cuts in excess of £900,000 which have already been delivered over the last two years.

One objector, Duncan McKay tweeted: "I can't help but thinking that closing libraries to tantamount to cultural vandalism."

Another posted on social media: "I would not be surprised if Fife was followed by other local authorities"

Fife Council's executive committee took the "tough decision" to make sure the service was "sustainable" and "suited to customer need".

David Ross, the council leader, said: “I think the proposals we have put forward as an administration reach the best balance, allowing the cultural trust to go forward and working with communities to mitigate the closures.

"The Trust needs to have a degree of certainty on the way forward.”

He added: "Libraries are an important and valuable service for our communities across Fife but we need to acknowledge that the way people use them is changing."

He said two thirds of respondents to a questionnaire understood why the proposals had been made and nearly half of those taking part agreed with them.

Mr Ross added: "As I've said before, this isn't just about a tough decision for library services though. We have to make difficult decisions across all areas of public services that we provide for Fife, from libraries and leisure centres to schools, social care and roads."

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“Any closure of a library must be considered extremely carefully. The Scottish Government places great importance on public libraries and believes everyone should have access to library services.

"Libraries don’t just provide access to reading material, but play a crucial role in providing access to IT, improving attainment, supporting children in the early years and empowering communities.”