A new Department of Culture, Media and Sport library report estimating that only 90 static libraries have closed in the UK since 2010 has been described as "bonkers" and "a farce" by library campaigners.
The figures show a marked discrepancy to the statistics released by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) at the end of last year, which showed that 272 library service points have closed since 2010.
The report, released following a recommendation by the CMS committee and set to be published annually, put the number of library service points open for more than 10 hours a week at 3,184. It added: "Whilst there have also been a number of library closures, it is difficult to get a definitive measure, but our estimates of static library closures, since the beginning of 2010, based on consulting a number of sources, is around 90."
However the CIPFA figures, released in December, show the total number of library service points in 2012-13, which will include static and mobile libraries, is 4,194. This is down from 4,466 in 2010-11, meaning 272 library points closed during the period.
Public Libraries News, which monitors library closures around the UK, has estimated that 453 libraries, made up of 377 buildings and 76 mobile units, have closed, left council control, or now face closure, since April 2013.
Explaining how the report's figures differed from the CIPFA statistics, a spokesman for the DCMS said: "[The CIPFA figures] do not provide the number of closures or openings, or the number of libraries that have transferred from the public library service to community-management."
Anstice of Public Libraries News said the DCMS was counting "the very minimum [of library closures] ignoring volunteer and mobile libraries." He added: "However, the scary thing is that 'as far as they could tell' bit. Because the DCMS, the Central Government for goodness sake, has no access to reliable facts… it's left to guesswork. Which is probably how the minister wants it. Which is the true madness here."
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, said: "The fact that the DCMS has said these are the figures as best they can work out isn't really good enough – they should know. It's bonkers.
"The entire report is vague and waffly, and lists things that other people are doing but not what the DCMS are doing. Altogether it shows they are not in charge, not in control, and not even terribly interested."
Library campaigner Desmond Clarke said: "It's absolutely bizarre that these are the figures the DCMS is choosing to put out. It is another example of them not understanding what is going on and them keeping their heads in the sand… If it wasn't so serious, it would be a farce."
The DCMS report said: "Together with other public services, library authorities are rising to the challenge of delivering and developing the library service, with many reviewing and re-shaping their library offer." It concluded by saying: "The library service is changing, and will continue to change. This re-appraisal has and is being used by library authorities as an opportunity to consider what a comprehensive and efficient library service should look like in the C21. This report highlights the extensive work which is being devised and delivered by Government, Local Authorities and the wider network of stakeholders to support the development and delivery of the public library service designed to meet the changing patterns of demand and use."
Last week, Doncaster announced plans for major library cutbacks, which follows similar news from Rhondda Cynon Taf and Leicestershire.