DORSET county council has been criticised for turning to volunteers to run some of its smaller libraries.

A report by the GMB union claims Britain is “going backward as a nation” by closing libraries or relying on volunteers.

Dorset county council currently uses the services of around 250 volunteers, some of whom are used to supplement opening hours in Beaminster, Burton Bradstock and Puddletown libraries.

But it is likely more libraries will be either closed or transferred to community groups as the council seeks to find £50 million worth of spending cuts.

Volunteers do not work alongside trained librarians and are not authorised to use the library computer system but their presence extends the days and hours on which the libraries are open for customers wanting to self-issue or return books.

Brian Strutton, the GMB’s national officer for public services, said: “We are going backwards as a nation in that councils are increasingly looking to volunteers to run local libraries, or even closing them.

“Even when Britain was not as wealthy as it was today we made it a priority to afford local libraries. Shame on the wealthy who live in these shire counties not prepared to pay taxes to keep the libraries open.”

A spokesman for Dorset county council said they were about to start consulting with communities on proposals to transfer responsibilities for services to parish and town councils and voluntary groups.

“Libraries are often held up as an area where local authorities can work with the public to maintain services in the face of shrinking resources,” he said.

“While volunteers cannot replace the expertise and experience of professional library staff, they have enabled several libraries to extend their opening hours.

“This approach provides increased access to the library service and has helped to build stronger links with the wider community. Our volunteers have shown real dedication and enthusiasm.”