Locked toilets, a dead rat and a man openly watching porn are just some of the problems recently faced by people using the borough’s libraries.

They were among a range of serious concerns raised by residents and councillors calling for a far-reaching review of Barnet’s library service, which has undergone sweeping changes over the past few years.

Barnet Council claims an overhaul of the service launched in 2016 has saved £1.6 million per year and led to longer library opening hours.

And while other austerity-hit councils have closed libraries, all of Barnet’s have remained open.

But on Tuesday (June 11), the communities, leadership and libraries committee heard about a string of problems that have emerged following drastic cuts to staffing levels.

These included:

  • A dead rat was left lying in a lift shaft in Burnt Oak library for three to four weeks.
  • A man openly watched pornography on the computers at a library in Finchley.
  • A woman with multiple sclerosis, limited mobility and continence problems found herself locked out of disabled toilets at her local library.

The changes made by the council mean some libraries are now left unstaffed at certain hours, during which people can gain access using a card and PIN code.

But this has led to concerns that youngsters under the age of 15 – who cannot enter unstaffed buildings unless accompanied by an adult – are being shut out of libraries.

The lack of staff also means disabled people have reported problems using the service.

Pressure group Save Barnet Libraries complained to the Government about the libraries shake-up in 2017, claiming it was unlawful.

But the Secretary of State ruled in April that Barnet’s library service complied with the relevant legislation and ruled out holding a public inquiry.

At Tuesday’s meeting, campaigners demanded that a review due to be carried out by a council-appointed independent agency examine all the issues affecting library users.

Nine-year-old Sia told the committee: “My mum is a nurse and works most of the day. Sometimes I don’t have time to go to the library – and even when I do, it’s hard to find the books I like.”

Labour councillor for Woodhouse Cllr Anne Hutton said: “We are hearing stories of our young people studying in the libraries of neighbouring boroughs, including Camden, Haringey, Brent and Islington.

“If these boroughs can provide staffed hours for our young people, why can’t we?”

The independent review will examine the impact of the library changes on young people and those with disabilities, as well as other groups.

Libraries manager Hannah Richens said: “The review focuses on a recommendation to enhance the future sustainability and effectiveness of the libraries offer.

“It will be informed by stakeholder and service user engagement. We would envisage library users would be part of that.”

But Labour councillor for Burnt Oak Cllr Sara Conway put forward an amendment to ensure the review examined four key areas: toilet access, library hygiene, personal safety and safeguarding and the impact of a reduction in library space on users.

The committee unanimously backed the review, including Cllr Conway’s amendment.