Yesterday, public library statistics collected by CIPFA were released, covering a range of aspects of the service. Amongst these statistics, it was revealed that book loans had decreased in 2010/11 to just over 300 million issues – a decline of around 9 million issues in a year. These figures are particularly significant as in the previous years library issues had remained stable. In fact, both 2008/9 and 2009/10 saw higher book issues than in 2007/8. So, after two years of stabilisation (if not slight growth), why has there been a sudden drop in book issues now?
The answer is, of course, obvious. Since the 2009/10 figures were reported, there has been a steady and determined assault on our public libraries. Staff have been subject to ‘brutal’ cuts in numerous councils across the country. Fewer trained staff leads to a decline in the quality of the service and consequently a decline in the number of people who use it. And it is not just staffing levels that have been hit.
Book funds have also been drastically cut. Take Gloucestershire, for example, in August last year it was revealed that their book fund would be slashed by 40% – a cut of over £200,000. The latest figures reveal that across the country book stock acquisitions have dramatically declined – purchase of adult non-fiction declined by as much as 14%. It is obvious that such cuts would impact on the number of books issued across the country. No-one could reasonably expect an increase in issues when the book fund has been slashed to such an extent.
Opening hours are also responsible for a decline in book issues. Library opening hours have been slashed in a number of authorities in a bid to save money. Of course, all such cuts actually achieve is to make it more difficult for local people to make use of the service which obviously has a knock-on effect in terms of usage. A library is not going to be used more if it is open less.
Finally, and most obviously, the closure of libraries has a substantial impact on the number of people visiting library or borrowing books from them. According to our partner site, Public Libraries News, thirty three libraries have closed in the period that these statistics cover. Contrary to the beliefs of some councillors, people do not simply use their next nearest library when their local one closes [PDF]. For many people, the closure of their local library means they no longer have access to a service they rely on.
Of course, it is no surprise that under these conditions book issues have declined to such an extent. Unfortunately for library users this means that councils will continue to embark on decisions that will destroy our public library service. An apparent decline in usage will be seen by councillors as the ammunition they need to claim libraries are no longer required and push forward with their programmes of cuts and closures. Continued cuts and closures will, in turn, lead to further declines in usage and issues…and so the cycle continues, destroying our public library network. It is noticeable that where there has been investment in libraries there have been record levels of usage. As long as councils continue to turn their backs on the library service, the decline that the CIPFA figures demonstrate will only worsen. Reductions in hours, staffing or book stock is simply destroying the library service by stealth. Library usage does not need to decline but it is down to short-sighted councillors that they continue to do so.