The number of public library branches and paid staff in Britain continues to drop, as stretched councils reduce their spending on the service, CIPFA’s annual library survey has revealed.
Spending by local authorities on public libraries fell by £30m, with the service losing 712 full time employees (FTEs), as well as a net loss of 127 service points in 2017/18.
This follows a trend which has seen the number of public libraries and paid staff fall every year since 2010, with spending reduced by 12% in Britain in the last four years.
CIPFA’s survey showed 51,394 volunteers putting in 1,780,843 hours in 2017/18, as libraries come to rely on the passion of members of their community to keep the service alive.
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said: “Libraries have faced significant cuts under austerity, with councils forced to reduce spending on all ‘non-essential’ services across the board.
“We can view libraries as a bit of a canary in the coal mine for what is happening across the local government sector, as we see it reflect many wider trends.
“A lack of funds is forcing many councils to get creative in how they deliver their services, and we find in our public libraries this loss of paid employees is creating a reliance on volunteers.
“Similar cost shifting is happening across almost all local government services, with communities finding everything from legal aid to green waste collection no longer as accessible.
“There really needs to be some honest conversations about the direction of travel of our councils and what their role is, as the funding gap will continue to exacerbate these issues.”
While visitor numbers continued to decline with a 10m drop in visitors to 233m visitors, however the top three libraries all receive well in excess of 1 million visitors a year.
There were 182,895,334 books issued to 7,991,752 active borrowers in Britain in 2017/18.
CIPFA LIBRARY SURVEY 2017/18
*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.
For further information please contact the CIPFA press office on T: 020 7543 5703 or E: Liam.Macandrew@cipfa.org
Methodology note: The library questionnaire was sent out to all authorities in England, Wales and Scotland on 2 June, with a deadline of 12 July. Out of the 205 local authorities the questionnaire was sent to within Great Britain, 166 in total completed the questionnaire, this represents an 81% response rate. The grossing methodology is based upon the principle of making an estimate according to the most recent available source. Where a return has not been received from an authority the total will be derived by attributing the same level of increase among the class average for responders to the expenditure observed by the authority in the previous year. Where this figure is also missing, then total expenditure and distribution is scaled to the per capita class average.
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.