Library usage among young people has increased in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but is down in England and Scotland, a new survey has found.
The research was published in a report, "Shining a Light", compiled by Carnegie UK Trust and IPSOS Mori. It is the result of a five-year study into public library use in the UK and Ireland which compares data on changing use and attitudes towards library services across England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The researchers conducted 10,000 interviews in total across 2011 and 2016 to gather the data.
The research reveals that more than half (51%) of all 15-24 year olds surveyed in Wales in 2016 use public libraries, an increase of nine percentage points since 2011. Usage among young people is also up in Ireland by eight percentage points, to 62%, and Northern Ireland by one percentage point to 45%. Meanwhile, usage among this demographic is down in England from 55% in 2011 to 51% in 2016, and in Scotland from 54% to 48% over the same time period.
The 15-24 age demographic is the top for library use in England, Ireland and Northern Ireland, while in Scotland and Wales it is the 25-34 demographic. The 55+ age group is the lowest for library use across all regions.
According to the research, there have been slight increases in overall library usage in Northern Ireland, which is up from 40% in 2011 to 43% in 2016, and Wales, which is up slightly from 45% to 46%. Conversely, there have been decreases in usage in England, which fell from 50% in 2011 to 46% in 2016; Ireland, which saw a decrease of one percentage point to 50% in 2016; and Scotland, which saw the largest drop from 61% to 50%.
The frequency of use has dropped slightly across all areas, with the percentage of users who had used a library at least once a month in England falling from 52% in 2011 to 46% in 2016; in Ireland from 57% to 49%; in Northern Ireland from 51% to 45%; in Scotland from 56% to 49%; and in Wales from 57% to 41%.
In response to the report, Martyn Evans, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust, suggested that libraries should strengthen their use of data to better understand the local community and the services they use.
“Public libraries remain an immensely popular civic resource across the UK and Ireland. However, we know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities", Evans said. "If libraries strengthened their use of data they could better understand who in the local community is using the library, the services they are making use of and what people would like to see more of, which would enable them to keep their offering fresh and relevant.
He continued: “All libraries and library authorities can learn a great deal from the best libraries. There are many libraries carrying out engaging, innovative work that greatly enhances their local community. We need a step change in how best practice and learning can be shared. The reasons why some libraries succeed are varied but include: new buildings, co-location with other services, additional services, good book stock availability, accessibility, open spaces and much more. The key lesson is that libraries must be more confident, have better evidence and replicate best practice. This will create the confidence of funders to invest staff and money to ensure libraries prosper. Everything we have learned is that such investment can reap enormous positive rewards. There is not room for any complacency and it is critical that all public libraries redouble their efforts to demonstrate their value and make a compelling case for increasingly scarce resources.”
Nick Poole, c.e.o. of The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), added: “As one of the UK’s most widely trusted and used public services, it is essential that public libraries continue to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of the communities we serve. This process of change has to be based on clear evidence of the different needs and contexts across all four nations of the UK.
“For the first time, ‘Shining a Light’ provides us with that key insight and evidence to plan effectively for the future. CILIP is committed to using these findings to drive our work on behalf of the sector, ensuring that the public has access to the high-quality services, resources and staff which the report shows they need and want. We urge other lead bodies to look closely at what the report is telling us and to use the findings to develop truly effective plans, strategies and policy to secure the future success of the library network.”
The Carnegie UK Trust is a charitable trust which seeks to support public libraries by developing innovative policy and practice projects.
The annual CIPFA figures report actual library performance and usage for almost every authority as reported by councils, whereas the Carnegie UK Trust report is a sample survey. The Carnegie UK Trust report covers data from the UK and Ireland, while CIPFA figures cover England, Scotland and Wales.