As we regularly point out, libraries are a tale of two planets. Hundreds are being closed, starved or dumped on to reluctant volunteers. Yet they remain uniquely useful, popular and are fiercely defended by their communities. Their potential to develop remains unlimited.
Unless government (national and local) gets a grip, the future is grim. Meanwhile, better information is badly needed.
The new report from Carnegie UK has plenty of good news as well as bad. Veteran campaigner Tim Coates says it should have highlighted the badness – before it’s too late.
Which do you support? Take your pick. See more here
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE REPORT
- Number surveyed: 10,000 (UK)
- Period covered: 2011-16
- 72% say libraries are essential or very important to their community.
- Of these, only 40% say they are essential or very important to themselves personally.
- 46% have used a library in the past year.
- Young people (aged 15-24) are the most likely age group to use libraries in England (51%). And almost half (46%) of 25-34 year olds now use them, 2% up on 2011.
- Over-55s are least likely to use the library.
- Libraries in England now serve more people who are not avid readers: 37% who read only one book a year use a public library; 40% (+5 percentage points from 2011) of people who only read one book every six months are library users.
- A sizeable percentage (21%) of people who rarely or never read books use the library.
THE BAD NEWS
- Overall library use has dropped 4% – 50% to 46% – in the last five years.
- Frequent library use (once a month)has dropped from 52% to 46%.
- Are people choosing to use the library less often – or are they finding it more difficult to do so?
- Why do so many people recognise the importance of libraries for others – but not themselves? Is it that they don’t recognise what a library offers as relevant to them? Or does the library, in fact, have little to offer them? Or don’t they know what services libraries offer? Or is it a combination of all three?
- For instance, 48% of people said they would use the library more if they could search for and reserve books online – a service that is, in fact, already on offer.
Since 2011, more people in England say they would use a library if a range of suggested changes and improvements were made (most popular: better information about the service; more events; providing other council services in the library).
Public libraries need to go on cultivating their ability to future-gaze, innovate and test out new ideas.
Plus – as ever – the need for better communications and branding.