December 9, 2019
773 UK libraries have closed in last decade
by Amelia Stymacks
In just ten years nearly a fifth of the UK’s libraries have closed, reports Alison Flood for the Guardian. Correspondingly, “the number of paid librarians has also plummeted” (from 24,000 to 15,300), as well as visits to libraries (315 million to 226 million visits per year).
According to an annual survey of the UK’s libraries (excluding Northern Ireland) conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s (Cipfa) is directly related to a 29.6% decline in spending.
National spending on the service topped £1bn in 2009/10 but dropped to under £750m in the last year, which saw a 0.4% increase on the 2017/2018 spend.
The decline in spending is the direct result of austerity—a campaign led by UK Conservatives that began in 2010 and cut spending for the police, road maintenance, libraries, courts, prisons, and housing assistance for seniors. You can read more about it in this handy New York Times report by Benjamin Mueller.
With local councils on tighter budgets, they were forced to prioritize other services, citing social care as an example. Despite that, Flood notes that earlier this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted to blame local councils entirely.
Johnson told [the BBC’s Andrew Marr]: “We want to be spending more. We want to be supporting local authorities. But some local authorities have been able to manage their finances so as to open libraries. I give you the example of my own borough of Hillingdon in west London, where they opened libraries … I want to invest in libraries, but we can only do that when we get the economy really motoring.”
But as Nick Poole, chief executive of librarian body Cilip, told Flood, there are a number of issues with Johnson’s statement, particularly the idea that “the country can only afford libraries when there has been an economic recovery.” Poole goes on to state:
“By investing in libraries, you create opportunities for education and skills across the country, which in turn creates the conditions for future economic growth.”
Amelia Stymacks is the former director of digital marketing at Melville House.