Book spend by England's public libraries falls below £30m

Book spend by England's public libraries falls below £30m

Spending by public libraries in England on printed books fell 20% year-on-year in the 12 months to end March 2018 to £29.1m (£36.3m the previous year), according to new analysis of the annual CIPFA figures conducted by library campaigner Tim Coates.

That sum spent on printed books represents just 3.9% of the total taxpayer expenditure on England's libraries, which stood at £748.5m (down 1.8% from £762.5m in the year to end March 2017).

Coates' analysis of the full figures, which are not made freely available by CIPFA, follows the release of headline statistics last week which showed continuing declines to the service, and which were described by CILIP chief executive Nick Poole as "a clear wake-up-call to Government about the severe impact of budget cuts on our much-loved libraries"".  

The latest analysis shows that book lending to adults from English libraries fell by 6.7% in the past year, adding up to a total drop of 31.6% across the last five years. Book lending to children fell, though less steeply, by 3.3% in the past year, undergoing a total drop of 19.6% across the last five years. Book lending as a whole through English public libraries is now 60% below its level at the millennium, according to Coates.

In England, 105 libraries closed, reducing the number from 2,958 to 2,853, while 14 more libraries were passed to volunteers to control, taking the total number of volunteer-run libraries to 272, or 13% of the total.

England's library stats showed some variations to those in Scotland or Wales, although the broad pattern of book loan drops is very similar. Expenditure on printed books in Scotland stood at £4.1m, 4.3% of total funding, and in Wales at £2.9m, or 6.1% of total funding, in the year in question. In Scotland, spending on the public library service fell more sharply than in England, down 3.2% to £94.7m, but in Wales spending rose 18% to £47.5m. In Scotland, six libraries closed, bringing the total down to 521; in Wales, 16 closed, taking the total to 244. No libraries were passed to volunteers to control in the year to end March 2018 either in Wales or in Scotland.

Both Scotland and Wales saw falls in book lending to adults and children; in Scotland, they were 8.7% and 6.4% respectively, and in Wales the drops were 7.6% for adults and 1.9% for children. !n Scotland, book lending has fallen 60% below the level recorded at the millennium, equivalent to England's lending drop, while in Wales the fall is only marginally less severe at 50%.

Just three library authorities have shown sustained growth out of 203 across the UK, Coates maintained: Greenwich, Rochdale and Caerphilly.

Coates expressed his frustration at the low book spend figures, saying the £30m figure for English libraries last year "absolutely doesn't work."

"If you mention the importance of books to senior figures in the public library sector, they roll their eyes and look as if they have been asked to eat worms," he claimed. "They believe that libraries are not about books. It's a mystery why they think that, but the evidence, every year, is that they do. It is not deniable. This year's figures show it more clearly than ever."

CILIP said in a statement: ”CILIP agrees that there is a clear link between the quality and currency of book stock and footfall in libraries. However, modern users also expect to be able to access a wide range of e-resources and activities in their local library, so library managers have to decide how to balance a very limited budget to meet these needs. That is why we need to keep making the case for sensible investment in these vital local institutions."

An additional issue thrown up by the CIPFA stats is the number of councils no longer reporting their figures to the body. Out of 152 councils in England, 32 did not supply performance figures to CIPFA and 35 did not give financial figures to the body.