For the list of how libraries in the UK are reopening, see this page.


Every now and again, a debate flares up about public library usage statistics. It has on one side those concerned about the (UK) decline in book issues and visits to public libraries over the last decade or so and on the other those who query the worth of such statistics and point instead to the wonderful impact and personal stories libraries can achieve, plus also that digital usage has gone up.

As ever, I tend to suspect both extremes. While libraries can indeed not just be described by black-and-white data (especially the dodgy stuff that CIPFA prints), it seems to me that if we have fewer people using us then we have lesser impact, heartwarming personal stories or no. I also suspect that physical visits have a stronger impact than their digital counterparts, although admittedly this is just a gut feeling on my part. On the other hand, simply counting the number of books issued, without regard to what impact they have, seems limiting at best.

But I do find myself drawn to the quote “Quantity has a Quality all it’s own” and not just because it allows me to have three “qu” words in a sentence. There needs to be a substantial number of people using libraries in order to justify them and the fewer they are, the more worrying it is. And in the UK, usage has fallen and continues to fall – for whatever reason (my favourite suspect is budget cuts) – faster than in similar countries such as Canada, the USA, Australia or New Zealand.

And this decline cannot be helped by the extended closures that many libraries are still experiencing, although less than a tenth of English public library services have yet to announce their plans for reopening while a few are already on their second and even third wave of recovery. News from branches continues to be generally good, with some complaints starting to be recorded about some libraries not yet being open. Worries about people not wearing masks – not mandated in libraries unlike in shops – appear to be minor at the moment.

So that’s good. Perhaps we can start breathing again, soon anyway. Although, sadly it seems not in Hampshire.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Coronavirus: New guidance on face masks and coverings released for England – BBC. “rules on face coverings were in place for shops and public transport but not for some other enclosed spaces such as libraries, register offices and civic centres.”
  • DCA Survey Results – Digital Content Associates. “DCA surveyed over 85 librarians and library-related staff or managers during July 2020 to give voice to their experiences and learning during the explosion of digital usage during the Covid-19 lockdown. “

“72% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that their e-resources are being underused

Nearly 80% of respondents have no strategy for reaching non-users

Nearly 40% of respondents thought users had little or no awareness of their digital offering 

95% of respondents said their library doesn’t use any kind of search engine optimisation or marketing to promote their library”

Alicia Pocock, Digital Content Associates
  • The Jason Farradane Award 2020 – CILIP. “It will be awarded to an individual or a team in recognition of exemplary and innovative practice. This may take the form of a specific project, a piece of research or the development of a service or resource, for example.”
  • Public Library Apparel: a quick interview with Lottie Begg – Public Libraries News. “I had an email out of the blue from Lottie Begg, who is starting a Kickstarter to start “Public Library Apparel”, producing public library related clothing and raise funds for the sector. Intrigued, I got in touch to ask a few questions …”
  • Remembering Josephine Cox: British Author Whose Books Sold Over 20 Million Copies – She The People. “Cox has also been one of the most borrowed authors from the UK’s libraries” and campaigned against closures.
  • Sports centres face uncertain future as Government vows to tackle obesity – Yahoo News. “Mark Sesnan, managing director of Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), the UK’s largest operator of non-profit public leisure facilities, estimated it would take three to four years to recover from the crisis. GLL, which runs more than 250 sport and leisure facilities and libraries across the UK, had no help covering its non-staff costs during lockdown. He told the PA news agency: “We’ve used our reserves to pay for that, but they’re running out and running out fast.”

International news

  • Canada – Overdue: Throwing the book at libraries – Globe and Mail. ” libraries operate largely with public funding, which has been disrupted far less than commercial revenues their competitors rely upon. As a result, libraries are likely to gain still more market share at the expense of booksellers in the months and years ahead.” … “The dirty secret of public libraries is that their stock-in-trade is neither education nor edification. It’s entertainment. ” … “A commercial publishing industry is unsustainable if four out of every five readers are reading at no charge.”
  • China / Hong Kong – National security law: Hong Kong’s librarians must stand firm to protect intellectual freedom – South China Morning Post. “When asked for his reaction to his books such as I Am Not A Hero (2013) having come under review for being potentially subversive, democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung reportedly said: “This is like the live-action version of Library War, fully staged!” … “No one is saying it is going to be easy to stand on principle. Yet bearing in mind those basic principles, hopefully ingrained in each and every librarian, will be the only way that libraries, and their keepers, can survive these latest assaults on our integrity.”
  • EU – Emerging international voices: the Goeth-Institut programme with IFLA – Goethe. Need to be under 35. “The Goethe-Institut is looking for young library advocates to share best-practice examples of libraries worldwide engaging with their digital communities. Apply to participate and become a part of an international network”
  • Lithuania – Kamishibai theater and book at Panevėžys City Public Library (Lithuania) – NAPLE Sister Libraries. “Kamishibai stories can be made individually, in pairs (one illustrator, one writer), in small groups or as a class project. “

Local news by authority

“It is very evident that a massive change of direction is needed in terms of priorities for investment at both local and national level across the UK in light of what is happening to businesses and the economy post lockdown. Sheffield makes an interesting case study in this respect. The main investment priorities for the Council in Sheffield seem to be to create more retail and office space in the city centre, and in the suburbs. This is despite there being high profile examples of businesses downsizing and not requiring office space anymore in the city centre. The council is also pressing ahead with a highly controversial scheme to shoehorn catering outlets and office space into Walkley Carnegie library, despite local opposition from businesses and the fact that existing catering outlets in the area are struggling and even closing in light of the downturn in trade due to the lockdown.

In light of the economic downturn due to lockdown, a much better strategy for Sheffield and the UK would be to invest in professionally staffed library services and expanded market spaces for independent traders to allow people educational opportunities in order to live greener lifestyles and get better jobs, and to allow independent traders to fill the gap left by the absence of big brands which may be closing down or downsizing. Professionally staffed library services have a big role to play in rebuilding our economy post-coronavirus given the huge positive benefit they have to local economies and the role they play in teaching people to live cleaner greener lifestyles and raise educational attainment.””

Matthew Smith, Sheffield – by email.