First rise in library borrowing for 20 years
16.03.10 | Benedicte Page

Book issuing has increased for the first time in more than 20 years, according to provisional figures drawn from the latest set of library statistics. But spending on books by libraries has fallen.

Library campaigner Tim Coates has analysed the provisional figures for the year 2008/09 from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). The statistics coincide with the beginning of the recession, which has been reported to have increased library use within individual authorities. Finalised CIPFA statistics will be published next Monday (22nd).

However, a draft version of the annual library report circulated to librarians shows a rise in book issues of 1.3% to 312m, according to Coates. But library visits showed a 1% fall, to 325m, while the overall numbers of active library users dropped by 2.1% to 12m. The number of libraries/mobile libraries fell by 27 across the year.

Annual revenue funds for public libraries show an overall rise of 2.4% to £1.2bn, according to the draft report, but with spending on library materials down 1%, and book spend specifically falling 2.3% to £90m. The number of books available for lending fell 3.5% to 76m. Council staff and overheads spending, known as “support service costs”, rose by 13.1% to £155m.

Coates said the latest figures showed there had been “a huge demand for books raised by the recession” but warned: “It [the rise in book issues] is not a reflection of the library service doing things any better, it’s that people’s needs have increased. There are still enormous problems in the operation of the service which must be addressed quickly.”

Meanwhile, fellow campaigner Desmond Clarke criticised the delay in delivery of the CIPFA figures. “It is totally unacceptable that national statistics on the performance of libraries should take so long to be produced. Effectively, councils are using data that is two years out of date. The figures were very late last year, and now seem to be even worse,” he said.

A CIPFA spokesperson warned the provisional library statistics circulated were in draft form, and therefore cannot yet be relied on as they are subject to change, saying that confirmed 2008/09 figures will be available on 22nd March.

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