Well, this is depressing but perhaps not unexpected. Figures released on Friday from the DCMS Taking Part survey show a 23.2% decline in visits between 2005 and 2013.  This tallies well with CIPFA statistics which showed a 28.3 % reduction in borrowing  from 2005 to 2013.  So, why the decline?  Well, the obvious one is decline in budget and, interestingly, other figures show that the public libraries budget did indeed go down almost identically by 29% in the same period if one takes into account inflation.  However, a look at the individual years show not such a strong correlation, with visits and membership going down even in periods when budget went up.  Certainly, the declining trend in visits seems to have halted at the time of an increase in budget but the decline in membership looks like it didn’t.   There is also an issue with taking inflation into account as some argue that inflation does not affect libraries budget so much.  For example, staffing is a large proportion of the total budget but pay freezes mean this has barely risen since 2010. However, this is so much sophistry to me: budget is doubtless to my mind a big factor in the decline but we have to say that it is not the only one.

So what other reasons could there be?  Well, the obvious one is technological change.  The adoption of ebooks and an increasing amount of people with online access has doubtless hurt visits and membership, especially as the spread and depth of  e-lending has been distinctly mixed in England … and I say England because this trend is not apparent in some other countries.  After all, the US has seen budget cuts as well but their overall library is actually going up.  So, either there is a big difference between the two countries’ library services (and there certainly is: the US doesn’t have as high household online use or even job centres for a start … but is that enough?) or there’s something going specially wrong in England.

It would, at this point, also be great to compare trends in the EU.  It would be especially useful to look at usage in comparatively well-funded France and Germany with numbers in badly-hit Portugal and Greece.  This would be doubly beneficial as Portugal at least has gone for keeping staff and cutting book buying while in the UK we’ve gone all out in both.  That comparison will have to wait until another day (Public Libraries News is a part-time hobby, after all, not a full-time occupation) but it needs doing.  Because otherwise we’re simply guessing at what is going on and that is a truly terrible situation, with councils keen to cut funding on one side, commentators like Tim Coates (see below) blaming library leaders on the other side and those same library leaders working under high pressure in a research-free haze caught in the middle.

Public Library change in use


Comparison budget and use

Tim Stats

Combined statistics courtesy of Tim Coates


“When you look at the table – as I hope you will –  you will see clearly, I hope, why Desmond [Clarke] and Shirley [Burnham] and Alan Gibbons and others are so angry about the operation of the public library service. From idiotic so-called ‘ library professionals’ to overpaid civil servants and public officials, to highly rewarded operators of charities and do -gooding consultancies – we have an army of idiots who are responsible for public libraries. It might be a surprise to look at such appalling figures, if we didn’t know that – at exactly the beginning of the period they record (2005) Gerald Kaufmann and the Culture Select Committee had not looked at the same figures for the previous ten years and observed the same story of miserable incompetence in every quarter.   His sensible recommendations were raucously ignored in every quarter – and now we see the results. To put alongside that the simple information that this decline has occurred only in the UK –   it is not mirrored in European or Asian or American countries – is to ward off the pile of excuses to which we will be exposed.  Nobody should fund a service which is so incompetently managed.  The public library service pays more in salaries and fees, than the entire UK publishing industry – it is not a trivial endeavour in any way ….    Tim Coates via email



  • Caitlin Moran’s How To Build A Girl: An instruction manual every woman should read – Express. “what an argument for public libraries this book is. For Johanna, born into a proudly working class family in a dingy council house, financially poor but rich in curiosity, eccentricity, words and enthusiasm, books are her reference for every new experience, whether it’s sex (the Whole Earth Catalogue), conversation (David Niven’s The Moon Is A Balloon), becoming a journalist (Little Women) or cleaning a rocker’s kitchen (Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management).”
  • Impassioned Sieghart is star turn at PLS annual meeting – BookBrunch. “Sieghart’s was an impassioned and eloquent speech. At the end of it, he made a plea for the creation of a “Library-Plus” library service that would enable libraries to operate from a position of strength, instead of the “tragic, tragic position we’re in at the moment”.  Sieghart was an unusual choice as keynote speaker for this event. He was chosen, perhaps, on the back of the excellent relationship that the PLS has forged with public libraries during the creation of the Access to Research project. Selecting him may have been slightly risky, but it certainly paid off.”
  • Kathy Lette to inflict poetic justice on Chris Grayling – Telegraph. “novelist Kathy Lette is planning on naming the corrupt lawyer in her next book Courting Trouble Chris Grayling. The fictional Grayling ends up behind bars and goes mad because he is unable to read any books.”
  • Sadiq Khan’s speech on the future of public services: full text – New Statesman. Councils “… tell me that by the time of their next elections they won’t be able to afford to deliver anything other than their statutory services.  That the crucial public services they provide – from libraries, to children’s centres and employment support – will have to be severely cut if not close. All directly as a result of the actions of this Government.” [Labour MP makes the common mistake: libraries are a statutory service – Ed.]
  • Taking Part 2013/14 quarter 4 statistical release – Government. The Libraries Section is at Page 22. The Survey plots changes in usage since 2005 and is the key evidence source for the DCMS.
  • The insidious phrase!: One size does not fit all – Leon’s Library blog. “Along with ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA), one other phrases that has gained in popularity when discussing changes to libraries is that one size does not fit all, usually followed by a reduction in the level of service. In the debate over library provision it has become one of the main declarations by both politicians and councillors to justify libraries leaving local authority control.” … “Terminology matters. In the battle of ideology over library services, words and phrases dictate the underlying philosophy and attitudes towards current and future provision. The over-use of trite phrases such as one size does not fit all risks rendering quite complex arguments into meaningless sound-bites and souring genuine dialogue between councils and campaigners over very real budgetary constraints and challenges”
    Tristram Hunt: The British Museum mustn’t throw out its history – London Evening Standard. “BM director Neil MacGregor is now thinking about transforming the gorgeous, domed Reading Room altogether. Among the options under consideration is pulling out the desks and shelves to create a permanent exhibition space. This would be a mistake. At a time when libraries are closing across the country, the Reading Room stands as a lodestar for learning and culture. It is the Jerusalem, Mecca and Rome of library spaces and deserves to be protected as both a contemplative space in the capital and as the entry point into some of the most significant passages of British history.”


  • Libraries that use 3-D printers consider new rules – Chicago Tribune (USA). “libraries should write policies for 3-D printers that limit their use to lawful purposes. Policies also should ban creation of materials that are harmful or dangerous, obscene or not appropriate for the library environment, or in violation of another person’s intellectual property rights. That would be less intrusive for patrons than leaving librarians in charge of monitoring requests, she said”

“New technology is being embraced by libraries as a way to remain vital, but it also changes the role of the librarian, experts say. “People have online ready references. They can Google things for themselves now,” said Carolyn Anthony, president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “Librarians have gotten more involved in teaching.””

  • Literacy to be targeted with the ‘priority it deserves’ at local level – Journal (Eire). “One of the key early actions of the initiative is to review existing best practice in literacy supports and ensure that they are widely shared and implemented throughout the nationwide library network.”
  • Long Overdue Library Book: Stories Librarians Tell One Another – Amazon (USA). “The co-authors have gathered vignettes of different kinds of library service — their own and colleagues from past decades and present them to you for your entertainment. Funny, sad, or a little strange and quirky, the one thing that all of the stories have in common is that each one involves a library or a librarian. You will also find photo-sketches of libraries from all over”
  • New report reorders Ranganathan’s laws to reflect today’s library resources, services and user behaviors – OCLC (USA). “Today’s library users challenge librarians to move from the simple declaration of “save the time of the reader”; meeting today’s users’ needs requires embedding library systems and services into their existing workflows. Our modern-day rephrasing of “every person his or her book” is know your community and its needs. The core meaning of “books are for use” is still about access; however, our interpretation focuses on developing the physical and technical infrastructure need to deliver materials. Our interpretation of “every book its reader” focuses on increasing the discoverability, access and use of resources within users’ existing workflows. We agree that “a library is a growing organism” and propose growing users’ share of attention”.
  • Passive-Agressive Library unMarketing – Pinterest. “This is a library, not a flamenco show”, “Thank you for not cutting and gluing”, “Do not touch letters on this sign” and other masterpieces of the dark anti-customer library arts [We removed all the “do not” signs in the libraries I work in years ago: there was no increase in antisocial behaviour and the whole place looks friendlier – Ed.]
  • Steamrollered: when librarians are told to censor kids’ books – Boing Boing (USA). “The issue of a request to remove or ban a book is so often raised that most libraries have a standard process to deal with it, and forms to complete to initiate that. To be prepared, libraries have also wisely made public their selection criteria for purchasing books and other materials. The issue is often based on sexual or religious content and usually is raised if parents or teachers believe that youth should be protected from such material. The process begins when a parent registers a verbal complaint. We ask if the person initiating the complaint had read the entire book, since many passages are problematic taken out of context but wouldn’t upset the reader if the entire book was read. Often they had not read the entire book; once they had read it they would not follow through with the request. “
  • Urban libraries say they’re getting shortchanged in a battle for WiFi funding – Washington Post (USA). “As far too many of us have learned as a result of the recession, the public library is often the only place where out-of-work Americans can go to apply for jobs and unemployment benefits online.”

UK local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Has Joe’s rich local legacy long since died? – Birmingham Post. “central government and the private sector have progressively stripped cities like Birmingham of their financial and political clout. The municipal cabinet of responsibilities is beginning to look pretty bare. Elected government no longer provides our gas, water, electricity and transport. More often than not museums, libraries and technical services have been hived off into trusts, or handed over to the private sector.”
  • Devon – Devon villagers empty library over cuts – BBC. “A village library’s shelves have been left empty after campaigners borrowed hundreds of books in protest at proposed budget cuts. Users of Braunton Library, in north Devon, fear it could close after the county council said savings had to be made. In April, briefing papers showed Braunton was one of 28 which could be at risk of closure. However, the council said there had “never been any intention to close it”.”
  • Devon – Hundreds gather to support Braunton Library’s Big Borrow event – North Devon Journal. “More than 300 people gathered at the village’s Devon County Council run library for the Big Borrow event which took place yesterday. Event organisers were thrilled with the support people gave their event.”

“It was an amazing morning. We had more than 350 people turn up and max out their library card. There were so many children that the children’s section is now completely empty and we probably got half way through the main library.”

“Local author Veronica Henry summed it up when she said ‘Closing Braunton library would be an act of shortsighted savagery. Libraries provide education. Entertainment. Escape. They are the gateway to another world, a place of safety and wonder for everyone.”

  • Devon – Library’s shelves emptied in Devon village over fears about closure – Telegraph. “Braunton Library, in north Devon, is “a well-used, much-loved” library, according to campaigners. Now residents fear it could close because Devon County Council has said savings must be made.” … “Mr Hewitt said they would return the books but “stagger it over the three-week borrowing period” to give the “brilliant” staff a chance to deal with the return of so many books. “
  • Leicestershire – Charity model could save library service, say UKIP – Hinckley Times. “Leicestershire’s UKIP group have proposed the county adopt a system used successfully by Suffolk County Council since 2012 to salvage library services in places such as Burbage, Barwell, Desford and Sapcote.”… ““The model used in Suffolk has enabled the council to deliver its statutory obligation fairly while making savings of 30% and has encouraged local community groups to innovate, fundraise and expand the service as a local hub for information, learning, literacy and inclusion”.  “In Burbage the parish council are canvassing residents whether they would pay an extra £5 a year on their council tax to help keep the village library open.”
  • Leicestershire – Library petition signed by 2,000 – Loughborough Echo. “Dr Stan Coats, parish councillor for Mountsorrel, has collected 1,137. And prospective Labour MP Matthew O’Callaghan has collected 1,061 signatures – 750 of which are a paper petition from Barrow residents. Coun Maynard Smith told the Echo: “The sheer number of people that have signed just illustrates how important the libraries are to our communities. “It is important to the young people and the elderly who use them. Libraries are more than just looking at books.” see also Leicestershire – Council accused of passing buck in libraries row – Leicester Mercury. 
  • Lincolnshire – “Can WE #SaveLibraries today?” – Thunderclap. “Join Save Lincolnshire Libraries #LibraryJudicialReview in sharing this message together at the same time – automatically.” … “This #LibraryJudicialReview must be the last! I call on Sec of State Sajid Javid to intervene & #SaveLibraries NOW http://thndr.it/1s7Pund” … “We call on the Secretary of State Sajid Javid to intervene to halt the decimation of the British public library service, on the day our fight to Save Lincolnshire Libraries reaches the High Court in London. Under the Public Libraries Act 1964 the Secretary of State is the ONLY person who has the power to intervene in a county council’s cuts to library services. Remind him with this Thunderclap how much our British public libraries matter. Ask him to act NOW before it is too late. “
  • Lincolnshire – Council accepts volunteer bid to run Deepings Library – Local. “Ashley Baxter, who co-ordinated the business plan for the Friends of Deepings Library, said: “The county council chose deliberately to leave us with no option but to recruit volunteers to run the library. “After six months, endless e-mails and four formal submissions, they have finally accepted our business plan proposals. “We must now wait and see whether they keep their side of the bargain which is a promise to bring the building into a fit state of repair suitable for a functional community library.””
  • Lincolnshire – Sir Peter Tapsell (Con MP) & Lincs Library Cuts – Save LIncolnshire Libraries. ” I deduce that the Father of the House, a Conservative of long standing, plea to keep libraries open has fallen on deaf ears, or at least that is my interpretation”
  • Staffordshire – Silverdale residents campaign to save village library – Stoke Sentinel. “More than 500 residents have signed a petition in less than two days opposing plans to change how their library is managed. Families in Silverdale fear their village library will close under Staffordshire County Council’s proposals to get community volunteers to take over the running of some smaller libraries.”
  • Wigan – Jobs axe at Trust -Wigan Today. “£40m of savings have to be made, there is a pledge to freeze council tax bills and Wigan wants to keep the cost of visiting leisure facilities among the lowest in the region. So something has to give.” … “The move is something of a reversal for the borough. Wigan Council relinquished responsibilities previously held by its leisure department 11 years ago when the charitable trust was established” … “Some services currently delivered by WLCT, such as libraries, heritage and the teams that maintain the borough’s green spaces, as well as some support services, will move back to the council.” …”The council and trust have been careful to stress two points in particular: library services will continue to operate and Haigh Hall will not be sold although services operating from the Hall and the country park will be “reviewed”