For a guide to how each library service in the UK is approaching reopening, see this webpage.


Physical public libraries are slowly coming back to life, with only 11 out of 150 English library services not physically open in some way. Many library services are offering at least a few open to freely borrow from as well. Meanwhile, click and collect has become the norm in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with opening up more hopefully coming soon. So reopening is continuing apace. Also in the good news category, many in libraries will also be breathing a sigh of relief, no pun intended, that it will soon be mandatory for masks to be worn in libraries.

However, with no regular or one-off events and with only a fraction of all libraries being open and a minority of them being more than than click and collect, it’s no surprise that library usage will take a dive this year. RIBA points out that the 3 months of closure along will likely have cost 50 million of an expected c. 226 million visits annually. Adding in that library service overall will still be very limited in August – the busiest month of the year for the sector – and that people may well be slow in coming back, it is possible to envisage anything up to a halving of physical visits, and of issues of physical items, to libraries this year.

I’m of course careful to say “physical” as 2020 is proving a Wonder Year for the digital offer of libraries, especially in online joining and loan of ebooks, as well as a flowering of social media. However, being this was starting from quite a low base in many library services, it seems to me at least that this is unlikely to seriously affect the overall figure to a significant degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have libraries slow to open and be safe than fast to open and not be. Libraries should never kill people, after all. But the cost of being such a responsible sector is a real one. The fear is that some of the people visiting us may find other ways of getting what they need and may not come back. How many that will be is perhaps, along with possible deep cuts to council budgets, the most serious question facing libraries today.

National news

  • Coping with Covid: How library design will need to change – RIBA Journal. “Flexible spaces that allow for social distance, quarantined books and fewer touch points will need to maintain the sense of welcome and community” … “According to Libraries Connected, the national umbrella body for public libraries, there were more than 226 million library visits last year, suggesting that over 50 million visits were lost in the three months of closure.”

“How libraries can return to being the all-welcoming places they were before the pandemic is one of the biggest concerns for senior librarians. They are used to bringing people together, so actively keeping people apart goes against their natural instincts. It will require sterilising the space but not the experience.”

“I’m pretty sure that library stats will be in decline, but I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that CIPFA does not collect any statistics for community managed libraries which are not part of the “statutory network”, as defined by the relevant local authority. So all books borrowed through our library, for example, are deliberately omitted from all “official” statistics. We do collect the information, but no-one seems interested in collecting it”

Chris Clarke
Friends of Jesmond Library

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