CIPFA comment: UK library income drops by almost £20m


According to data from CIPFA's annual library survey, the total income of libraries decreased by nearly £20m over the last financial year, a reduction of 25% from 2019/20.

The number of in-person visitors to libraries fell by 72% compared to the previous year, from 214,624,000 to 59,655,000. Continuing trends from recent years, the number of web visits for libraries has continued to grow, with an 18% increase since 2019/20 (131,108,000 to 154,723,000).

The total number of paid staff also fell by less than 100, or 1%, between the 2019/20 and 2020/21. Volunteer figures, however, dropped sharply with a decline of almost 50% from the previous year.

A total of 72,939,000 books were issued in 2020/21, with a decrease of 56% from 2019/20 (165,885,367).

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO said: "Given how stretched public services were during the pandemic, it's not surprising to see such a sharp decline in libraries' income, visitors and volunteer staff.

"It's worth noting that the reduced levels of income we've seen have occurred despite increases in specific grant funding. Without this additional grant funding, we would have expected to see lines of income even lower. The fiscal reality that libraries are facing is bleak.

"Clearly, physical visits have dropped due to COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of library facilities. But, while this decline may be steep, the increase in digital visits shows that communities still want to use library services. Libraries continue to be of significant cultural value for our communities.

"Only time will tell if this recent shift to digital will prove to be a long-term model for our use of libraries."

CIPFA Library Survey 2020/21

2019/20 2020/21
Spending £800,024,000 £780,254,000
Library visits 214,624,000 59,655,000
Employees (FTEs) 14,925 14,840
Volunteers 50,128 25,709
Service points* 3,667 3,842
Books issued 165,885,367 72,939,000
Total revenue income £74,976,000 £56,563,000


Notes to editors

  • Download the survey data
  • Total income is measured through specific grants, overdue charges, reservation fees, lettings, hire of audio and visual materials, electronic revenue, provision of library services to other local authorities, receipts from the public (e.g. photocopying), corporate income and other miscellaneous sources. These grossed statistics are based on provisional questionnaire returns from local authorities and are liable to adjustments before the final dataset is released.
  • A service point is any library, static or mobile, through which the public library authority provides or directly manages a service to the general public. A static service point must allow access to the general public (not just specific groups), and as a minimum, provide a staffed information point, stock loan facilities and a public access terminal. Departments within a single building should not be counted separately. Central libraries and branch libraries are counted as separate service points.
  • The time period for the data covers the 2020/21 financial year.
  • Specific grants cover assistance by, for example, the government in the form of cash or transfers of assets to the authority in aid of particular projects or aspects of the public library service. This should include income received through New Opportunity funds.

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CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. CIPFA shows the way in public finance globally, standing up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world as the leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money.

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