E-BOOKS and mobile libraries may replace the 20 Dorset libraries facing closure, unless community groups take them over, possibly charging for books.

More than 13,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Dorset County Council holds a full debate on its proposals to cut funding to 20 of Dorset Library Service’s (DLS) 34 libraries next April.

If councillors approve the plans next month, a public consultation will take place in March. Options include community ownership at a peppercorn rate or town and parish council funding.

Otherwise, faced with a budget cut of £816,000 in 2012, the library service will rely on downloadable e-books and four existing mobile libraries to plug the gap left by rural libraries such as Colehill, Sturminster Newton and Upton.

The empty buildings would probably be sold off.

Ad Lib, the association of friends of Dorset libraries, is opposing the plans.

Chair Mike Chaney said: “We have plenty of suggestions for the council on ways of making the cuts to the library service without shutting small branch libraries that mean so much to people in deprived areas.”

DLS manager Tracy Long told a meeting of the Friends of Colehill Library: “We have a high level of libraries per population and a network that is difficult to afford and sustain.

“There is a trend of decline across the library service but we’re confident that through the online virtual library we can carry on.”

A special panel will look more closely at the options, but groups that took over a library would not use the central book stock or existing card system, she added.

Underused stops on the four mobile library’s routes will be withdrawn and new ones added, she said, as at the moment some stops issue just 10 books in six months.

Four libraries in Mid-Dorset and North Poole constituency face closure.

Mid-Dorset and North Poole MP Annette Brooke pledged to fight the plans “on all fronts” and questioned how a library service without a central book system could work.