The number of children visiting libraries in the UK has fallen to 70%, driven by a decrease in girls’ visitor numbers, according to a Department for Culture, Media and Sport report.
The Taking Part 2014/15 Annual Child Report said 70.3% of children aged 5-15 visited a library in the last 12 months, a similar percentage to 2013/14 but a “significant decrease” (-7%) from 75.3% in 2008/09.
The decline is due to a drop in the number of older girls who have visited in the last 12 months, said the DCMS. In the 11-15 age bracket, 74.7% of girls said they had gone to a library in the last year, compared to 82% in 2008/09 – a decrease of 8.9%.
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said: "This is the most worrying of all recent reports, because it's about children. Something is very seriously wrong. The library task force has got to start asking real, hard questions - why this is happening and what is going to be done about it, as a priority."
Commenting to The Bookseller on the figures, Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency, pointed out that more children visited a library than a heritage site (69%) or a museum or gallery (62%) and said that it is difficult to say why there was a dip in library visitors. She said the closure of some libraries may have had an impact but said there are “lots of factors” to take into account, and pointed out that the number of children taking part in schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge has gone up. “This report raises a lot of questions about the value people find in libraries and we need to keep on encouraging parents and carers to take children to visit the library,” she said.
Meanwhile concerns have been raised over statistics and news reporting, after several publications, including the Guardian, stated in their coverage of the Taking Part report that despite the drop in attendance, the number of libraries in the UK has increased by 2%. The Guardian claimed its figure came from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), but later corrected its article following contact from CIPFA. The correct figures show that there were March 2,908 static libraries in 2014, down from 3,041 in March 2010. The number of mobile libraries has dropped to 234 from 385 over the same period.
Laura Swaffield of The Library Campaign told The Bookseller that public libraries are closing “in droves”.
Meanwhile The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) said a lack of reliable and meaningful data is having a negative impact on informed decision making, and is calling for “clearer, more robust evidence”. Nick Poole, CILIP chief executive, said: “The picture of the public library service nationally is limited and open to misinterpretation. We would like to see a stronger and more comprehensive evidence base around public libraries. The official figures published by CIPFA are a tremendous help in building a picture of the key figures and trends over time, but with the evolution of services and greater complexity in delivery and staffing, it is more important than ever that the facts are understood and that we have a relevant, accurate and robust evidence base to inform key decisions.”
The Taking Part report is an annual survey looking at the cultural and sporting activities of children aged 11-15. It was commissioned by the DCMS in partnership with Arts Council England, Historic England and Sport England, and surveyed 1,825 children between April 2014 and March 2015.