A total of 106 libraries have closed in the UK this year, while library funding has been cut by £50m, figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) have revealed.
The data report released today (9th December) shows that the number of libraries fell by 2.6% in one year from 4,023 in 2013-14 to 3,917 in 2014-15, a drop of 106. At the same time, visits to libraries were down by 3.9% from 276m to 265m for the financial year 2014-15, while £50m worth of funding was stripped from library budgets, down from £0.99bn to £0.94bn.
Since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, visits to libraries have fallen by 14% and library funding has been cut by more than £180m– a drop of 16%. Meanwhile overall library numbers have fallen by 343 in that time.
Rob Whiteman, chief executive of CIPFA, said the figures made “grim reading”.
“Cost cutting measures continue to hit unprotected services hard and fewer people are using public libraries,” he said. “Yet there is some hope. Volunteer numbers have nearly doubled over the past five years. Tens of thousands of people are now giving their time to make sure these precious resources survive.”
Cuts to local council funding since 2010 have lead to libraries being closed, staff shed and services axed, with many libraries being moved to volunteer control.
While the CIPFA figures today show paid library staff in libraries fell by 3.8% in 2015, volunteer numbers rose by 18.7%, reflecting this. Since 2010, paid staff in libraries has decreased by 21.7%, while volunteer numbers have soared by 92.6% to 41,402.
Veteran library campaigner Desmond Clarke told The Bookseller the library visitor numbers were the most concerning part of the report.
“The ultimate measure of the success of public libraries is whether they are being well used by the public,” he said. “We should therefore be most concerned that library visits have dropped by 14% in just five years.”
He added: “I hope that the Library Taskforce can bring pressure to improve both the timeliness and quality of data about public libraries in England."
Expenditure on books, newspapers, periodicals and magazines in the last 12 months has fallen by 10.6% from £72m in 2013/14 to £64m in 2014/15, the CIPFA figures revealed. However, online and electronic expenditure has increased by 1.7% from £11.6m in 2013/14 to £12.2m in 2014/15.
Tim Coates, former Waterstones boss and also a library campaigner, said “the real concern” was whether councils were “spending their money correctly”, with all the signs indicating “that they are not.”
“They are cutting the service instead of looking for improvements in the operation which is hopelessly out of date and inefficient,” he said. “There is no indication yet that the Library Taskforce and those who are directing it are addressing the right issues - the problems are not about move to digitisation but about the basic standard of library service.”
Nick Poole, CILIP chief executive, said: “These figures highlight the inevitable result of the Government’s lack of joined-up policy for maintaining and improving the nation’s public libraries.
"As we have proven time and time again, libraries deliver. They help people build their skills and confidence, bring communities together and deliver real-terms savings across a wide range of Council and health services. Libraries support schools and education, build local economies and get people online in a safe, supported environment. If usage is in decline, it is because people are being denied access to a quality library service, not because the demand isn’t there. If the current picture continues to go unchecked, the impact will be felt by millions of people who have fewer chances to read, to meet and to learn.”
The top five most visited libraries last year were Central Manchester, which received 1.3m visits, Norfolk and Norwich Millennium, which 1.2m people visited, Wembley in Brent, visited by 1.16m people Woolwich in Greenwich, attended by 1.09m people and Jubilee Brighton, with 952,083 visits.