Two library associations – the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL) - have taken issue with reports of the decline in numbers of children visiting libraries, following publication of a Department for Culture, Media and Sport report.
The DCMS Taking Part 2014/15 Annual Child Report said the number of children aged 5-15 who visit libraries had fallen to 70% from 75% between 2010 and 2015.
However, the associations said that the Taking Part annual reports also showed that the number of children aged 5-10 who visit libraries actually increased between 2012 and 2014. SCL advocacy manager Elizabeth Elford told The Bookseller that attendance for that age group dropped after a high point in 2010 but then started to grow again in 2012. “We’re not up to 2010 levels yet but that could be for a number of reasons, perhaps in part because the number of children surveyed for this report has gone down by 30%,” she said. She said SCL has not yet looked at the figures for 11-15 year-olds in the same amount of detail but predicted “similar” increases in attendance over the 2012-2014 period.
In a joint statement, SCL and ASCEL said recent reporting failed to take into account attendance at library events, saying: “This reporting of decline in use misses the larger picture of oversubscribed children’s activities in libraries, record-breaking numbers of children completing the Summer Reading Challenge, new and innovative programmes being introduced, including [online activity sessions] makerspaces, coding clubs, and more, a huge increase in digital engagement, a renewed investment by library staff in providing for children in all places they frequent, including libraries, schools and at home.”
Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) data recording book issues, rather than attendance, showed that in the year up to 31st March 2011 the number of books borrowed by children increased to 81.6m from 81.3m. Children’s fiction borrowing was also up slightly - 0.3% - in 2012. CIPFA’s most recent report, published in December 2014, showed that overall book declined to 209 million loans in 2013/14, from 222 million in 2012/13. However, that year the organisation did not break down information such as borrowing of genres, which have typically shown the strength of children's borrowing.
Yesterday, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) said there is a lack of data when it comes to library attendance and said there needs to be “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.”