Public Library Loans In England, Wales Show Dramatic Fall In Last Two Years

‘Urgent need’ … inside a public library. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA
‘Urgent need’ … inside a public library. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Almost 16m fewer books have been loaned in England and Wales since 2014, reinforcing a bleak picture of widespread budget cuts and branch closures

Latest figures show that library book loans slumped by almost 16m in the last two years, with library campaigners calling the news “a clarion call to put books back at the centre of what libraries do” in a sector that has seen record closures and budget cuts.

Library book loans continued a downward trend in 2016, with figures obtained by the Guardian revealing that loans for the year to 10 December fell on average by 14%, with loans to adults worst hit at 15% down. Loans of children’s books fell by just over 12%. However, this comes at a time when book sales in both sectors have continued to climb.

Leading library campaigner Tim Coates blamed cuts to libraries’ book stocks and opening hours, which he said were undermining the chief purpose of libraries. He said: “This is a clarion call to put books back at the centre of what libraries do and to do it quickly. Libraries have a combined budget of £900m; if only £100m of that was spent on improving book stock we could turn this around.”

Slamming what he described as a failure by the Libraries Taskforce, set up by the government to rejuvenate the sector, he added: “If we look at what people use libraries for, three quarters of them use them for newspapers and books. We see the minutes of the taskforce when it meets and they never look at figures for visitors or book-borrowing.”

Coates said the failure to place books and library usage at the top of its agenda meant the taskforce had not engaged with the public in a way that reflected their use of the service, which has taken a £25m battering from spending cuts over the past 12 months.

According to Nielsen LibScan, which monitors loans through public libraries, specialist nonfiction for adults took the worst hit in the 12 months to 10 December. Volume growth was down by 15.89%. Loans of popular nonfiction for adults were also down – by 14.29% – with adult fiction loans, down 14.24%, faring scarcely better. In contrast, sales through bookshops of all three were up over the same period, with popular nonfiction books up by almost 11%.

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SOURCE: The Guardian