Taking stock

An “Enchanted Story Garden” to entice children in to explore the love of reading (Eltham Library); a group of schoolchildren named as Library Ambassadors by the school’s librarian and encouraged to use a budget to choose books for the school (Arden Academy); and a scheme to supply children in hospices with free audio mini-libraries (Listening Books). While The Bookseller’s news operation has to highlight the many tough stories affecting our public library service—cutbacks and closures, falling book stock spend, job losses—it is a rare treat to be able to focus, as we do this week, on the good work done by committed and successful libraries of all kinds to promote the love of reading, literacy and literature, and to provide a place of information and opportunity, and of shared community. Many congratulations to Harrogate Library in North Yorkshire, which takes this year’s crown as our Library of the Year, alongside a strong shortlist, also announced this week.

Meanwhile, for the first time we recognise the work done by those volunteers who take over a library when a local authority decides to divest it, with a commendation for Brent’s volunteer-run Preston Community Library, where agent and former publisher Geraldine Cooke plays an active part. The Bookseller believes strongly that paid, professional librarians are an essential resource, and that handing libraries over to be volunteer-run is an abdication of local authorities’ statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. But Brent residents fought a long and hard campaign against library closures in their borough, and in an era of hard choices, the Preston Community Library volunteers are doing a fine job in offering a library service to its community in the absence of any alternative. They deserve their nod, and hats off to them.

Books a priority

Now for a point we’ve often made before but which remains vital. Public libraries need to make their book stock an absolute priority, even at a time of squeezed budgets. Book loans in England have been falling for a long time, and a narrative seems to have become accepted that this is an inevitability, reflecting changing priorities among modern library users. Yet figures highlighted by campaigner Tim Coates this week show that this isn’t a pattern shared in the US, where loans by contrast have remained stable. Or in Australia, where loans have dropped slightly, but nowhere near at England’s rate. In England, the nation’s book stock has been allowed to fall from 90 million to fewer than 60 million copies. Publishers too should do all they can to support e-book and audio loans from libraries, to ensure libraries can foster and encourage reading in all the ways their users need and expect.

A poor book offer (across p and e) won’t excite readers, and the expectation of user-decline becomes a self-fulfilling narrative. That must be interrupted: build it and they will come.