More than 70 libraries closed during the past year, according to 2012-2013 figures published today (10th December) by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).
As well as recording the loss of 74 static and mobile libraries, the annual report - covering the 12 months to end April 2013 - also recorded drops in library expenditure, library visits, the number of staff and the number of books issued.
Total expenditure on libraries in 2012-13 was £1.048bn, down 4.4% from £1.098bn. The estimated figure for expenditure in 2013-14 drops below the £1bn mark to £995m, representing a drop of 9.4% from 2011-12.
Overall visits to libraries in 2012-13 stood at 288m, a drop of 6% on 2011-12's figure of 306.5m. Book stock also fell 2.3% from 94.3m to 92.2m, while the number of issues plummeted by 8.6%, dropping to 262.7m from 287.5m
The issues of audio, visual, electronic and other materials also dropped, falling by 10.4% to 19.7m from 21.9m.
The only area which saw solid growth was the number of volunteers. While staff numbers dropped 6.8% from 21,780 in 2011-12 to 20,302 in 2012-13, the number of volunteers soared 44.5%, growing from 23,397 to 33,808.
Campaigners said the figures showed deep problems within the service.
Bilbary's Tim Coates said: "In a recession, and one with bookshops struggling, you would expect to see more people using libraries for the books and for the facilities. That seems to be the case in places like the US and much of Europe, so why isn't that happening here? Ultimately there are deep issues. Austerity plays a part, but it is the failure to realise that simple presence of books and availability of reading are what make libraries useful for most of the people who want to use them that is the cause of the decline."
Desmond Clarke said: "What is truly worrying about these numbers is that they don't take into account a number of closures which have occurred this year. They are already out of date in the wake of authorities like Lincolnshire cutting 40 libraries."
The Library Campaign commented: "Here come the official statistics on public libraries - way out of date as usual. This daft state of affairs has been the norm for years - one more problem that nobody has ever got sorted. But it matters more than ever. We know the library service has been falling off a cliff at an accelerating rate since CIPFA totted up its latest results. But nobody knows the current position. Just last week, up to 40 more branches were wiped out in Lincolnshire. And we know it will be nigh impossible for library users to see even the out-of-date CIPFA information. Yet their taxes have paid CIPFA. Just another public library scandal."
CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said: "Local authorities across the UK have worked hard over the past few years to identify savings and reduce their spending but now also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public . . . the surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new and innovative ways to engage and serve their communities."
The report also revealed the busiest libraries in the country, with the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library again topping the figures for both visits (1,273,416) and issues (1,159,262).
The busiest libraries behind Norwich were Brighton Jubilee, Newcastle City, Woolwich and Croydon Central. The top for issues after Norwich were The Hive Worcester, Oxford Central, Cambridge Central and Chelmsford.