Statistics can be made to mean anything but, sometimes, they provide very useful clues to what is happening and sharp reminders of the truth. So, while me and Tim Coates would, and have, strongly disagreed on the reasons for the decline in library usage (he squarely blames senior librarians and, by extension, the whole library profession, I’m a tad bit more complicated), I am indebted to him for his further analysis of the recent CIPFA figures.

There are a few things that seriously stand out in his presentation. The first key set of statistics are, sadly, the ones we all know about: the decline in library usage (visits down one fifth and book loans down by an astounding nearly one-third in the last three years). The explanation for this, often superficially accepted by politicians, is that this is a historic trend, due to the introduction of computers etc. The fact that library usage is not facing such drops in other countries (it’s doing very well in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand) does not fit into this narrative and is not often pointed out. In those countries, they stand a chance in changing with the times. Here, we stand less of a chance because we’re constantly looking for how to deal with the next cut.

The second key statistic gives a strong clue as to why the UK is an exception to healthy usage in that, in England for example, the total library budget has gone down from £1055m in 2005/6 to £880k now, on the face of it a reduction of 16.7%. Add in inflation (33% in that same period) and that increases to a reduction of 38% in real terms. Now, the actual cut may be less than that (public sector wages and book prices were not increased by the same amount for example) but that’s a major major cut. Add on that reduction the temptation in many councils to milk the library budget for increasing support for central corporate services (from 7% of total budget to a whopping 14% since 2000) and you get an idea of what a disaster has befallen libraries. Wow, that makes the maximum reduction experienced in public library budgets a possible 45%. Nearly one half. No wonder we’re not doing so well, eh?

The third key statistic is a really surprising one and that is exactly how bad an investment e-books are. They account for 17% of the total bookfund in England but only 1.2% of loans. One POINT two percent, not 12. That’s truly awful. Seriously, what a terrible way to spend the shrinking (from nearly £80m in 2003 to less than £50m now) bookfund. The reasons for their poor performance are manifold: many of the best titles are not available, ebook prices are artificially high, e-loan platforms (such as Overdrive) are not user-friendly and publicising of library e-book services is pretty much non-existent. What gets me here is why, faced with such barriers, library services are still ploughing in such large and increasing amounts of money into a high-cost low-return medium. Stop it. It may be glamorous and smack of the future but it’s a darn poor return on investment. Library services should stop being complicit in their own ripping off, putting up with such a system and shame the publishers into being fair, even resorting if need be to launching their own systems and reaching their own e-book agreements. That’s something the SCL and concerned on-lookers could usefully do. My suspicion is that the DCMS and the Task Force will not touch such a thing (messing with private enterprise, you know) until it is pushed for strongly enough.

So, in summary, library usage is down but a very large part of that is due to the budgets being drastically cut. And the next time you see librarians cutting the book fund while increasing e-book spending, tell them it may gain them kudos but it’s unlikely to gain them usage.


National news

  • Public libraries 2014-15 – Tim Coates. An analysis of the CIPFA figures shows a deep decline in loans (minus a quarter to a third in just three years) and in spending (minus 16.7% over ten years, ignoring inflation, 50% including inflation). Purchasing of print books down from £80m in 2005 to £49m in 2014.
  • Sort out CIPFA, says Tim Coates, and TLC agrees – Library Campaign. “All library book lending has fallen 28% in the last three years … Children’s book lending has declined 17% in the last three years … Purchasing of print books for libraries in England has fallen from £80m in 2005 to £49m last year” … “Out of 205 library authorities in England, Wales and Scotland last year, 18 authorities did not report fully. This year, 31 have not. ” … “Coates calls for a dramatic improvement in the collection of CIPFA data for 2015/16, which commences in April 2016. He points out that the Taskforce has already highlighted a need to improve the timeliness, accuracy and detail of the information available to councils. All councils should complete the forms; the CIPFA data should be produced by July 2016  – and it should contain some of the sort of information that he has included in his two presentations. “

“Ebooks took 17.6% of the book fund and produced just 1.2% of book lending.”

  • Winning Hearts and Minds – Leon’s Library Blog. “If the sector has failed to produce the national strategic leadership required then campaigning groups have also failed to fill the void sufficiently.  This is not a criticism but a recognition that opposition in itself is not enough. What is needed is one body, or campaign group, speaking with one voice, with a vision for libraries and a realistic roadmap of how to achieve it. The individual elements already exist but bringing it together into a unified narrative to challenge the government’s account is for me the single most important issue for 2016.”


  • Bulgaria – Cưng architects proposes transparent structure for Varna library comp – Designboom. “The proposed ‘library’ is constructed using a mix of monochromatic polycarbonate and glazed panels, with a dominantly white marble interior. The façade is both transparent and solid, which was done to both entice possible guests, and provide a clear view to the seaside garden: the city’s largest, oldest, and best known park. “
  • Canada – Calgary Public Library sees 33% increase in new card holders in 2015 – CBC. “Ditching library-card fees has paid off in Calgary, with a 33-per-cent increase in registered card holders and the lost revenue being recovered in generous donations.”
  • Canada – Pedalling books, Toronto friends share their love of reading with a mobile library – Star. “In the summer, they cycle the streets of Toronto with 18 kilograms of books in tow. The titles find their way from their bike to the hands of readers in city parks. In the winter, the volumes live in the cosy confines of a neighbourhood bar, where the pair leaves a small library and hosts a monthly reading series.”
  • Finland – Libraries launch reading challenge in English – Uutiset. “Last year the capital city region’s library website, spurred by one Espoonlahti librarian’s brainstorm, published a reading list to give bibliophiles inspiration for the coming year. Now, a year after the first challenge proved a raging success, the 50-item list has been made available in English for the first time.”
  • Malta – Pembroke library book loans double – Times of Malta. “the formula of her success contained several ingredients, including building a relationship with the users, keeping in touch with readers through social media and introducing fresh material, even if it was just a reprint of a classic. “It’s a case of keeping the shelves dynamic, with as much varied material as it can possibly contain. I do consider as crucial the element of change and reshuffling. A library is there for the primary purpose of educating and motivating and that is fulfilled by constantly supplying a variety of material,”

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – Campaign planned to find volunteers to run Silsden library – Craven Herald. “… politician warns many volunteers will be needed to keep the library, currently run by Bradford Council, open to the public. And he fears the library’s location, in Silsden Town Hall, could complicate the issue and deter townspeople from taking on responsibility.”
  • Lancashire – Lancashire libraries consultation 2016 – Lancashire Council. “Lancashire County Council wants to understand what you would like from this space. This space will be developed in response to individual community need. We are passionate about creating opportunities which give people the potential to develop in areas they choose themselves. These physical flexible spaces will be used to promote learning, arts, performance, social activity, digital inclusion, families, heritage and wellbeing. The spaces we aim to provide will enable our communities to enjoy an environment which has been tuned to their needs. The spaces need to be safe for everyone and comfortable. “
  • Leicestershire – Barwell library may not be facing final chapter – Hinckley Times. “a recent meeting between council officials and 20 residents resulted in potential salvage options being tabled. Sandra Bates, from the Barwell Community Library group, said: “While the support group has withdrawn our bid to operate the library, we have been working behind the scenes to try to resurrect the project and have come up with two possible solutions. “One would be the formation of a friends group – if 250 users pledged £50 each every year we could raise the necessary revenue to fund the library on an on-going basis, if there were 500 pledges then each pledge would only need to be £25.”
  • Nottinghamshire – Bassetlaw: A right hullaballoo going on at libraries – Worksop Guardian. Events.
  • Solihull – Solihull Central Library and Arts Complex Refurbishment – Solihull Council. “A major refurbishment project will be taking place between August 2015 and February 2016 so that the building continues to meet the needs of the local community. This scheme will improve existing facilities and introduce some important new functions.” includes “a new home for the Voluntary and Community Sector in Central Solihull including a new Solihull Community Advice Hub on the First Floor. Those voluntary organisations include Age UK, Citizens Advice Solihull Borough, Action for Blind People, Aquarius, Relate, Colebridge Trust/Solihull Sustain and Solihull Borough Talking Newspapers Association” … “create new Café Bars at Ground Level and First Floor Level” … “refurbish the Theatre, including seating, carpets and lighting, and provide a level entrance from the Ground Floor foyer” .. “provide a Changing Places Facility for disabled people visiting the Town Centre “
  • Swindon – 2016 looking like a year of change for Swindon – Swindon Advertiser. “Volunteers will be expected to play a bigger role in a new-look Swindon as well. Talks are currently taking place over libraries, with locals being told many will be lost unless people come forward to run them. “