Library loans down 43% in 10 years, new analysis shows

Library loans down 43% in 10 years, new analysis shows

Latest figures from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) show library loans are down 43% in the last decade in England, with libraries still in “a terrible state” as repeated schemes to turn around the service fail, campaigner Tim Coates has said.

Figures released earlier this month showed 35 libraries closed in 2018/19, while 17.7% of libraries (around 800 in total) had shut in the past decade. Library spend was up slightly year-on-year by 0.4% but there were seven million fewer visits and a 4.4% fall in books issued.

Analysing the full figures, which are not made freely available by CIPFA, together with past results, Coates said loans of printed books in English libraries stood at 150 million in the past year, adding to a total drop of 43% in the last decade and 59% since the turn of the millennium. There were also 371 libraries run by volunteers in 2018/19, up from 272 the previous year.

The pattern was largely repeated in the rest of Great Britain. In Scotland expenditure on printed books was £6m, while Wales’ figure stood at £3.2m. Visits to libraries have fallen by 12% and 8% in Scotland and Wales respectively during the past 10 years, while the number of books issued dropped 42% and 28.4%. 

Coates, former Waterstones m.d. and library campaigner, said: “The British public library service is in a terrible state and will require major reorganisation if it is, in future, to be useful.  That is what the history of CIPFA figures show. It is confirmed by the recent set. Use of the service has been falling regularly for the past 20 years, and funding has been falling for the past 10. In comparison, for example, to America and to Australia, the figures for the UK are simply dire.” 

He added reports, plans and initiatives to arrest the decline had failed, including the creation of the Libraries Task Force.

Coates said: “Looking through the figures of those councils that have reported, such is the extent of decline, it is difficult to find any examples of consistent good practice that might be shared elsewhere. Of the multitude of problems facing UK public libraries, it is hard to see if any have been solved in the past 12 months—or even if any have been acknowledged.”

He also claimed 68 out of 205 councils in Great Britain—33% of the total—did not provide financial figures this year, with others failing to give performance statistics. They included some of the largest like Liverpool, Birmingham and Kent, alongside controversial authorities such as Bradford, Derby and Dundee.

Coates said: “These figures put into serious doubt any national figures that CIPFA, the UK body responsible, have estimated and published this week to represent annual performance.

“This lack of basic information is sadly indicative of a public service which—in so many councils and among so many of its public officials— appears to operate with complete lack of consideration of the public who pay for it and whom it exists to serve. 

“The CIPFA figures for any council are very hard and expensive for a member of the public to obtain. When people are asked, as they often are, to participate in consultation about changes to the service, it is galling to find that so many councils do not provide the basic figures that they should.”

CIPFA told The Bookseller this week that 81% of authorities had in fact responded but not everyone had provided all of the data requested.