Further falls in library use as book stock still suffers

The latest annual statistics for the public library service show further falls in overall usage of the service amid a continuing decline in spending.

Both the number of library "service points" on offer and the number of books available for users to borrow dropped again, continuing the pattern of recent years. Children's fiction was the only area to show a small increase in overall book stock and lending.

The statistics, which cover the year to 31st March 2011 and are collated by The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), show overall spending on the service down 2.3% to £1.16bn (from £1.19bn) with book acquisition dropping across the board.

The steepest decline was in adult non-fiction, where acquisitions fell by 13.7% to 2.36m. Adult fiction acquisitions fell 7.4% to 4.58m, children's fiction fell 7% to 2.92m and children's non-fiction fell 5% to 659,000. Total book stock held by libraries dropped to 98.3m from 99.2m last year. Library numbers dropped from 4,612 to 4,579.

In the context of this diminished provision, overall visits to library premises were down 2.3% to 314.5m (from 322.1m the previous year) and book issues down 2.9% to 300.2m (from 309.3m). In an unexpected development, the number of web visits to libraries, which had risen sharply across the previous four years, also dropped in 2010-11, falling from 120.4m to 114.8m.

The brightest point within the statistics is once more children's lending, with fiction borrowing slightly up from 81.3m loans the previous year to 81.6m. However children's non-fiction lending showed a marginal decline.

The latest fall in overall use of the service coincides with a notable rise in the involvement of volunteers, for the second year running. Numbers of volunteers in UK libraries rose 22.3% last year to 21,462 people, while paid library staff dropped 4.3% to 23,681.

Library e-book lending figures are not included in the current CIPFA annual statistics.