Libraries must not be a ‘soft touch’ for cuts

25.08.10 | Victoria Gallagher

The Reading Agency has said libraries should “not be a soft target for cuts” after statistics released last week showed a continued decline in library visitors. The stats have led to a media blitz on the issue of libraries, with some campaigners suggesting that up to 1,000 libraries could be under threat from local government cuts.

Last week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports’ (DCMS) Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport report showed a 1.7% decrease in the number of library goers last year. But the agency said that digging deeper into the statistics showed that there was not just a “straightforward picture of a decline in public interest and take up”. It said instead that children and young people’s use was steady, with children’s book borrowing rising for five years in a row.

The Reading Agency also said the best libraries offered a range of groups, activities and services to deliver added value. It said “the social consequences of this more active approach are profound”.

The agency singled out the Summer Reading Challenge for children, and the Six Book Challenge for emergent adult readers as two initiatives which have had a positive response from the public. The Summer Reading Challenge saw 725,000 children take part in 2009, an increase of 5% on the 2008 total. This year it is estimated more than 750,000 children will take part. For the Six Book Challenge 13,500 adults registered this year – up 50% on 2009.

In a statement the agency said: “In tough financial times, we cannot afford to undercut libraries’ ability to create a nation of readers, our literacy skills deficit is already too large. The scale of cuts means the library network is unlikely to survive in its current shape, so prioritizing and innovating will be key.”

It added: “We must not lose sight of libraries’ radical social purpose … They should not be a soft target for cuts.”

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