Around 700 events took place to celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday (7th February), 100 more than the previous year, according to CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which now organises the day.
However the day also saw anti-cuts protests, while new research from the House of Commons library, released by the Labour Party, showed there were 282m visits paid to libraries in England in 2013-14, compared with 322m four years earlier. The research showed that the decline was particularly steep in deprived areas, where the percentage of people using libraries had dropped by more than a fifth from 46.2% to 36.8%. Across the country, there are 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week across the period. Shadow culture minister Chris Bryant told the Independent the government was "utterly failing" on libraries, and said Labour would offer "genuine national leadership".
The figures echo the decline shown by figures collated by CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which were released in December, and analysis of the figures over the past 10 years undertaken by library campaigner Tim Coates, which shows a 24.1% decline in library visits and 33% decline in loans over the past decade.
Alan Gibbons, the children's author and campaigner who originally established National Libraries Day, said on his blog: "Four years after I called for a National Libraries Day, an event that is now an annual celebration, I fear for their future." He added: "During my years of campaigning to save our libraries, I have debated with MPs, councillors and the Culture Secretary. I have yet to hear a single comment from any of these people to reassure me that the service is safe in their hands. So let’s celebrate National Libraries Day, but we will have to fight for them if it is to mean anything."
Children's author Cathy Cassidy also struck a note of caution on the day, writing a blog for the National Libraries Day website where she said: "Let’s not teach our children that Britain values its shopping malls more than it values learning, culture and imagination; we can make libraries a hot topic in the run up to the election, work together to try to change things. Libraries matter; let’s stand up for them."
Some areas used National Libraries Day as a focal point for protests. In Cardiff, hundreds of people gathered outside the Central Library for a read-in to demonstrate against planned cuts, while protestors in Birmingham gathered to form a human chain hugging the cuts-threatened Library of Birmingham.