He last week promised to tackle the 'decline and decay of the past two decades' which have seen opening hours slashed and a dramatic fall in book buying.
He announced that new regulations will lay down requirements on 'the range of opening hours - not just how many per week but when in the week, to match the available leisure time of different age groups in the local population.'
A senior government source said that libraries had to be open at times to suit the whole community - including children, the elderly and working people. He insisted that they must respond to changing lifestyles in the same way as banks, supermarkets and bookshops. 'Emphatically that means that evenings and weekend opening have got to be on the agenda.' he said.
However, Mr Smith did not announce any new money to help councils meet these standards. Neil Fletcher, head of education, leisure and tourism at the Local Government Association, warned that there could be a groundswell of resentment against the proposals unless they are properly funded.
'There are cost implications involved and councils develop these services without the financial cost being considered,' he said.