December 17, 2014
2014: the year 50 libraries closed in Britain
by Zeljka Marosevic
A new report issued by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) has revealed that almost 50 libraries were closed in Britain this year.
The Bookseller reported the findings of the report released on Friday that looked at library closures, visits, and changes to lending and borrowing in libraries big and small across the country.
The study painted a bleak picture for libraries in Britain, but not a surprising one. Library closures have become commonplace as central government has cut funds to local councils, who in turn have cut funds to libraries in order to make vital savings. Between 2012-13 the UK had 4,194 libraries and 4,145 in 2013-14, a loss of 49 libraries and 1.2% decrease.
Since the coalition government has been in power the country has lost 337 libraries in total.
The effects of cut-backs can be seen throughout the report, in these key areas:
Visits to libraries and book loans have also fallen over the same period. Library visits in 2012-13 stood at 288m, which has dropped 2% to 282m in 2013-14.
The number of books lent has also fallen, dropping 6% from 262m last year to 247m in the past year.
What’s more, in the past five years, there’s been a 20% drop in book loans. And this fall has also affected children’s books, which are usually a growth area: the borrowing of children’s fiction saw a 2.6% decrease, and non-fiction saw a pretty similar fall in numbers. The decline of borrowing could be due to less-favourable opening hours (many local libraries have cut their opening times just so they can carry on opening at all), or due to a reduction in resources.
But there was one notable rise: the number of volunteers working in libraries. The number of volunteers increased by 5.9%, and in the past five years (or since the coalition government came to power) the number has increased by 100%. Of course, this reflects a decrease in paid staff.
Paid staff members decreased significantly, with the number of full-time equivalent staff going from 20,302 last year, to 19,308, a fall of nearly 5%.
Back before the coalition government there were “24,746 full-time equivalent staff, meaning there has been a decline of 22% since that time.”
The report was published at the same time as Birmingham’s beautiful library, which was newly opened last year, announced it would be reducing its opening hours, cutting around 100 jobs and spending less on new books.
These changes to Europe’s biggest civic library are showing up the government and its attitude to libraries over the past five years; the CIPFA report shows us that our libraries are vulnerable and unprotected, and in desperate need of saving.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.