A newly launched library website supported by Arts Council England and the Society of Chief Librarians has reported that 60% of people are not visiting their local libraries.
But the report has been criticised by library campaigner Desmond Clarke, who said it was "strange for the organisations behind this website to launch it with such negative results".
Bookmark Your Library, launched yesterday (19th March), is backed by ACE and SCL; the Reading Agency; library service sharing organisation The Combined Regions; and WorldCat.org from international library co-operative OCLC; and is said to be designed to help people access their libraries and learn more about them.
However the site has launched with a research study (into 2,000 people) that found 60% are not visiting their local libraries and nearly half said libraries were not needed as much as they were a decade ago thanks to new technology. The study found that one in five people would feel very disappointed if their local library shut down, and only one in 10 said it would be a loss to their local community.
The biggest driving force behind people visiting a library was children, with 14% of people who responded saying they last visited the library to encourage their child to read, and 8% going to help their child with a school project. The average time a respondent last visited their library was 17 months ago.
Elisabeth Robson from Bookmark Your Library, said: "Local libraries used to be the cornerstone of many British towns and cities, but despite libraries across the country offering a diverse range of services, these appear to be unknown to a large proportion of the country. The problem lies with a lack of general knowledge on the services that they offer and how precious a resource they really are. With Bookmark Your Library, our goal is to help promote the services of libraries around the country as they provide support to everyone."
She added: "Our libraries are a national institution, free to use, and they are not just about books, there's lots more available in terms of services such as e-books, free access to computers and the internet for example. People tend to use libraries when they are young, when they have kids and when they get older. People shouldn't forget they are there in the intervening years. Our message is simple; use them or lose them forever."
But campaigner Desmond Clarke questioned the survey, saying: "I would like to know more about how this research was carried out and what kind of sample they used. The findings seem to go against other similar surveys and what we know from other countries where library use is going up. It is strange for the organisations behind this website to launch it with such negative results—news like this is what gives councils green lights to cut their services or hand them over to volunteers."
The website has services for finding libraries, seeing what events are happening, and checking which books are in stock.
* From The Bookseller: Arts Council England has asked us to make clear that while ACE is a partner in backing the Bookmark Your Library project and and website, the body has not managed or funded the project. The headline of this article has been changed to reflect that.