Tim Coates has just sent me some figures from the most recent CIPFA library statistics.  They show a lot of trends that one working in libraries can well believe: the first being the drastic drop in usage.  Since 1997, we have seen a halving in book borrowing and a reduction of a third in the number of library visits. In the same time we have also seen the loss of two-fifths of professionally qualified staff (only two-fifths?) and a lost of a fifth of total staff. E-books are starting to make an appearance but are still at pathetically small levels, with total number of borrows being the same as New Zealand, which has one-twelfth of our population.

So which came first the reductions in usage or the reductions in budgets? Tim disagrees with me and argues that budgets haven’t been much shrunk (he entirely disregards inflation) but everything I know, experience and has been told ties in with my view that the money has been cut by around a third over the last parliament. That alone could count for much of the reduction, as experience from the USA, Australia and New Zealand suggests usage is, unsurprisingly, far more buoyant in areas where spending has been protected.  The problem with libraries, you see, is we cannot force people to use them – they’re a discretionary service and if people see the buildings looking tatty, with harried staff and not many books, well, they’re going to walk away.  So a vicious circle is created.

But there is more to it than that. The cuts in budget are masking and distracting library services and politicians from the massive change in people’s reading habits. Moreover, the fact that UK libraries are still experiencing such cuts in usage even in a time of recession when people should be wanting to use the free public library service more is as clear a pointer as anything that something is going on over and above cuts in investment.  Technology is changing how people view libraries and, there, again, the UK library service is suffering more than elsewhere  … because it takes pro-active planning and investment to transform a library service to what is more in keeping with today and such things are in short supply where all councils are doing is working out what to cut next.

We can hope that the Sieghart Report (come on Mr Vaizey, you’ve paid for it, you publish it) can give a new impetus to providing that transformation because, left to themselves, 151 English library authorities are just not going to be up to the task.  Like it or not, the current mantra of localism is inadequate for this task.  We need national direction and we need it now.

CIPFA facts at a glance

With thanks to Tim Coates who has crunched the numbers. My thoughts are in italics.

  • Since 1997 the number of books available for lending has gone down by 20m from 92m. Overall book lending in public libraries has gone down by 49% since 1997
  • The number of people using libraries to borrow books has halved since 1997
  • The number of library visits has gone down by 33% since 1997
  • The numbers of copies of e-books held in libraries in 2014 are England 526k; Wales 204k ; Scotland 60k; N Ireland 21k This is the same as New Zealand, which has one-twelfth the population.
  • The number of ebooks loaned in 2013/14 as a portion of total book lending is England 0.86%; Wales 1.54%; Scotland 1.70%; N Ireland 0.71%
  • The number of libraries open 10 hours or more has fallen since 1997 by 9.8%. There are 4,282 library public services of all kinds in the UK of which 101 are reported as being not managed by their local council (2.4%)These are surprisingly low figures and suggest that not all volunteer libraries are reported as such by councils (my figures count far more, and are linked).
  • 48% of libraries in the UK offer wifi. This is a shockingly low figure at a time where even bakers offer it.
  • Capital Expenditure on public libraries in 2013/14 was the highest ever at £163m. If one takes inflation into account, it is not the highest – that was £161m in 2009/10.  I also imagine a lot of this expenditure was to convert libraries to self-service or to install other services such as One Stop Shops.
  • Council annual expenditure on library operations fell in 2013/14 by 2.8% to £940m (it was £967m in 2012/13). Inflation was 3% so the real fall was 5.8% if one takes that into account.  Again, if inflation is taken at full face value, combined expenditure on libraries has fallen by a full third (33%) since its peak in 2005/6. See the figures using the Bank of England calculator.
  • Expenditure on books (including ebooks and digital content) fell 14% to £77.6m, which is its lowest level for 20 years. It is 7.6% of library spend.
  • There has been a sharp rise in property costs from 11.9% of expenditure to 13.5% in two years.  It’s hard to see this as anything other than a budget grab by central council departments.
  • In 2014 There are 19,307 paid staff of whom 3,106 are qualified professional. There are 35,813 (full time equivalent) volunteers. In 2007 there were 25,769 paid staff of whom 5,298 were qualified professional and there were 13,417 (full time equivalent) volunteers.  This means that there has been a cut by a fifth of all paid staff in seven years, rising to two-fifths of professionally qualified staff.  Volunteers have almost tripled in the same period.

“The real concern must be the marked decline over several years, especially in England, in library usage and borrowing.  That is the urgent issue that the DCMS, Arts Council England and the professional bodies need to properly understand and take urgent action.” Desmond Clarke


UK national news

  • Beyond Books The role of enterprising libraries in promoting economic wellbeing – Carnegie UK Trust. ““Beyond Books” is the final report from the Trust’s work on Enterprising Libraries. It draws on learning from four local projects in England and Wales that explored creative ways of encouraging enterprise and digital skills development. The report outlines success factors, common challenges and recommendations for library services, professional organisations and national bodies involved with public libraries, and government. The recommendations include developing mechanisms for sharing good practice and innovation, and developing training for library staff around partnership working, collaboration, innovation and networking.”
  • CILIP protests against IWM library ‘closure’ – BookSeller. “It was revealed last month that the museum was consulting on a restructure, and staff have claimed the restructure could see the library in its London museum closed and up to 80 people lose their jobs. The Museum has said it will make an announcement on what is involved in the restructure in January. The letter, signed by chair of the CILIP board Martyn Wade and the 2015 president Jan Parry, says that the IWM library “plays a pivotal role in furthering our understanding of modern war and conflict.”
  • Dysfunctional and devalued – Leon’s Library Blog. “Perhaps even more than closures the real damage is through the hollowing out effect while trumpeting that no libraries have been closed. This is one of the biggest divergences between the library profession and politicians. On one hand the profession points out quite rightly that libraries are more than just buildings and stock, that service quality and development also counts, and for that you need professionally qualified librarians. On the other is the politicians view that any unqualified, well meaning amateur…” … ” there appears to be another insidious thread worming its way into public libraries, which is the downgrading and disappearance of senior library roles. “
  • Goodman out, Bryant in as shadow culture minister – BookSeller. “Bryant, a former Anglican priest, became MP for Rhondda in 2001. During the last Labour government he served as deputy leader of the House of Commons, and minister for Europe. Goodman became shadow culture minister following the departure of Dan Jarvis in October 2013 after he had spent two years in the role. She was involved in a recent debate on libraries in parliament, where she suggested updating the 1964 Act on the basis that “is so brief that it lacks the teeth necessary for a proper library service.” Goodman was also a speaker at the Speak Up For Libraries conference last month. She told library campaigners she backed the re-establishment of a professional leadership body for libraries, and commented, on council cutbacks: “There is no point in giving local authorities a terrible financial settlement which means they are choosing between child safety and libraries – it’s an intolerable situation.””
  • Legal aid slashed with no thought for consequences, MoJ chief admits – Independent. “Ursula Brennan, the MoJ’s permanent secretary, told MPs that the ministry had not assessed the impact of the cuts because of the haste with which the axe had been wielded.”
  • Prison book ban ruled unlawful by High Court – BBC. “Mr Justice Collins said he could see “no good reason” to restrict access to books for prisoners. The Prison Service said it was a surprising judgement, and would look at how it would deal with the ruling.”


  • Creating a Free Check Cashing and Bill Paying Service Through the Public Library System – Knight Foundation (USA). “To create a pilot program at one public library to provide free check cashing and bill paying services.”
  • Ebook issues double in NZ libraries – Radio New Zealand. “More than 800,000 ebooks were borrowed from library databases in 2013, up from about 350,000 in 2012. Meanwhile, the total number of books issued fell by four percent to just over 48 million”
  • Libraries Reinvent themselves in the Digital Age – Good E-reader (USA). “A recent report by the Library Journal has stated that 95% of all US libraries have an e-book collection. That’s up from 89% in both 2013 and 2012, when researchers thought that adoption had plateaued for good. The average number of e-books carried was 20,244 by each library, but that of course was skewed toward large libraries. Medium sized libraries statistically had around 10,434 titles.”

Supporter’s news

  • Signalling in the brain: getting connected – Oxford University Press. The problem with trying to send information around the nervous system happens because signals need to be sent without being distorted across the entire length of the body (for a blue whale this is a very large distance indeed). This chapter from The Brain: A Very Short Introduction (available on Very Short Introductions online) outlines these mechanisms. Very Short Introductions online is available via subscription to all public libraries in the UK. Please contact your representative Ged Welford for your free trial or more information.

UK local news by authority

  • Barnet – Catholic writer protests over threatened cuts to library services – Independent Catholic News. “if Barnet Council decimates its library service and severs access to books, it will, in the end, also decimate the spirit of its people.” … “With its current options Barnet Council will restrict access to books, but also the ideas in them – the hopes and dreams of authors’ hearts that speak to the human spirit, and what it means to be human and alive. To sever libraries is to sever access to what the books inside them represent: the creative imagination, which the poet William Blake said was God. He called it ‘Jesus Christ the Imagination.’”
  • Barnet – Pupils from Goodwyn School, Mill Hill, write letter begging Barnet Borough Council to rethink library consultation – Times Series. “In the letter, they say: “We are writing to express our terrible sadness at the rumors of possible closure of the libraries. It would be a tragedy. “Everybody knows that education is essential and that books are at the heart of learning, so why would you deprive people of this?”
  • Hampshire – Kingsclere residents face longer wait over library future – Basingstoke Gazette. “If no-one comes forward to run the library, the service would be provided by a weekly mobile library service from the end of March 2015. “
  • Knowsley- Council job losses blamed on government cuts – St Helens Star. “The proposed savings include reducing opening hours at the borough’s libraries, reducing highways and environ-mental maintenance, and increasing e-billing and online services” [Originally reported as being in St Helen’s  – Ed]
  • North East Lincolnshire – New chapter in the life of Scartho library service – Grimsby Telegraph. “Foresight’s Older People’s Project will provide the service at the St Giles Avenue library from Monday, January 5 … Plans are also in place to provide a chiropody service and holistic therapy treatments.” [Yes, that does say a chiropody service – Ed.]
  • Pembrokeshire – Pembroke Dock library hours reduction concerns – Western Telegraph. “The Water Street library, currently open five-and-a-half days a week, could lose 13 hours a week as part of wider proposals which could see opening hours in many of the county’s libraries cut. “
  • Sefton – Volunteers fill up book club shelves – Liverpool Echo. “Volunteers at Aintree Village Youth and Community Centre have been quietly beavering away over the past few months collecting books and bookshelves from various sources, in order that they can provide a book lending service to the community of Aintree Village, Melling, Old Roan and surrounding areas. Volunteers Pauline Chase, Sheila Wright and Josie Donovan have catalogued and filled shelves with over 2,000 books so far and more are to be added in the coming months.”
  • Shropshire – Church Stretton residents urged to take part in library consultation – Shropshire Live. “The consultation follows an event held last month in the town, whereby residents were invited to express their views on the proposals, which include moving the library, visitor information centre and customer services to different locations within in the town.”
  • Somerset – Yeovil Performing Arts Library could be at risk as Somerset County Council plans to save £500,000 on book-lending services – Western Gazette. “The specialist library offers a music and drama lending service and around 200 people, and 700 groups, are registered as users. It currently opens six days a week and costs the county council £75,000 to run annually, minus any income the facility generates. Proposed changes to the facility are outlined in the county council’s consultation document. It says the council’s “preferred” approach is to retain the specialist service in Yeovil Library but reduce costs.” see also Wells library survives closure threat – Wells Journal. “City councillors heard that savings were going to be made through changes to other library services, such as cutting back on the use of mobile vans in rural areas and reducing specialist services, rather than closing existing libraries.”
  • Staffordshire – Staffordshire County Council to debate future of libraries next week – Staffordshire Newsletter. “The future of Staffordshire’s libraries is set to be discussed by Staffordshire County Council next week after more than 8,000 people triggered a debate. If proposed changes to libraries go ahead, a number of centres across the county could become volunteer-led, rather than run by council staff. Libraries earmarked to become “library local” services include those in Penkridge, Brewood, Baswich and Holmcroft.” … “Under the council’s petition scheme any petition that exceeds 5,000 valid signatures automatically triggers a debate at the next available full council meeting.” see also Thousands sign petitions over Staffordshire libraries cutbacks – Express and Star.
  • Walsall – Public meeting to be held over plans to close eight libraries in Walsall – Walsall Advertiser. “Library users will be able to air their views on plans to close eight buildings when a public meeting is held in Walsall. Walsall Council has proposed to shut the buildings in a bid to save more than £500,000.”
  • Worcestershire – Extra £50,000 to be cut from Worcestershire libraries – as review over opening hours draws to a close – Bromsgrove Advertiser.  ” despite council chiefs already targeting £2.7 million of savings” … opposition councillor says “”Our Conservative leadership signed a £20 million deal to make high speed broadband available to 90 per cent of households, mainly in rural areas. “But almost half of residents living in social housing cannot afford even slow internet access at home, let alone high-speed broadband.”