Library campaigners have called for vision and leadership for the public library service following publication of the latest annual library statistics from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).
The figures, released yesterday and covering the year to March 2011, showed overall visitor numbers down 2.3% to 314.5m and book issues down 2.9% to 300.2m. Alan Gibbons of Campaign for the Book said: "Given the unremitting onslaught against our libraries, the disparagement of librarianship as a job, the years of 'woeful' leadership, as the parliamentary committee put it, I am encouraged that it is as robust as it is. There are still over three hundred million visits a year."
He added: "It can be turned round but not by the appalling performance of Mr Hunt and Mr Vaizey. We need a strategic vision. The children's figures give us hope for the future, but we need a sense of where the service is going. It is not coming from the DCMS."
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said his worry was that the pace of decline would accelerate over the next two to three years. He said: “These figures are really for the period before the major cuts started. We have a very serious situation. People within the profession are totally demoralised.” However, he added: “It doesn’t have to be like this. The sector desperately lacks leadership. We need advocacy. Several successful authorities have been bucking the trend - it can be done.”
Tim Coates, chair of London library campaign umbrella group Libraries for Life for Londoners, said: “The absolute nightmare for the library service is that they close it down and don’t actually save any money. That seems to be what is happening - slowly but surely the service is being torn apart - first books, then opening hours, then buildings - and at the end of it all the cost is exactly the same as it was before. The trouble is that those of us who have watched for years how badly the service is managed, would always have predicted this as the result.”
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