Tim Coates has analysed the latest CIPFA data (2014/15) with some worrying conclusions: 

  • Children’s book lending has declined 17% in the last three years

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  • All library book lending has fallen 28% in the last three years

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  • Library use in major English cities is declining more rapidly than the national picture

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  • Purchasing of print books for libraries in England has fallen from £80m in 2005 to £49m last year
  • Ebooks took 17.6% of the book fund and produced just 1.2% of book lending.
  • Council library connected overhead costs have risen to £150m per annum, over and above library management costs

 Tim Coates is calling on The Libraries Taskforce to push for significant change on several counts – to ensure all local authorities submit data, to ensure auditing of data is carried out to reduce discrepancies in reporting, and to ensure that the data is released in a timely fashion and in a meaningful format to inform local authorities.

He states,

“Last year, when the corresponding CIPFA analysis was published, the newly formed Taskforce observed that it was of limited use because councils submit the data in different ways and that several councils do not complete the returns.

The variation is confined to a very small part of the questionnaire – it only applies to the way the headings councils give to the revenue cost of certain types of capital expenditure – it does not affect the overall costs at all.  There are also discrepancies about counting or performance and it means that there can be slight overstatement of visits, issues and of levels of stock. These do not negate the analysis but they make it more worrying and they also highlight the need to audit reports of public activity, which is an important issue.

Out of 205 library authorities in England, Wales and Scotland last year, 18 authorities did not report fully. This year, 31 have not. The totals calculated by CIPFA are not significantly affected by these omissions.  However, councils have a statutory duty to provide information on their library services, described in the 1964 Act, and it would be good for the Taskforce to remind them that the CIPFA return is a way to do that, as a matter of urgency.

It is obvious from the figures that councils do not and have not responded to the decline in use of the service  – but they should.  One reason for this is that the most recent and relevant figures are never available at the time a council prepares its annual budget  – which is the time at which needed improvements could be made.”


Coates calls for a dramatic improvement in the collection of CIPFA data for 2015/16, which commences in April 2016. He points out that the Taskforce has already highlighted a need to improve the timeliness, accuracy and detail of the information available to councils. All councils should complete the forms; the CIPFA data should be produced by July 2016  – and it should contain some of the sort of information that he has included in his two presentations. 

He adds,

“Any ‘tool kit’ of advice provided by the Taskforce should include an explanation as to how to respond to the falling use of the library service in budgets and actions.”


Elizabeth Ash, Trustee of The Library Campaign, says,

“The Library Campaign supports this call for accurate, complete and timely libraries data.

CIPFA data needs to be standard, consistent, timely, relevant and meaningful in order to make a difference by informing local authority decision makers as well as allowing others, including the taxpayer, the library user and the library campaigner to hold local authorities to account for the statutory library service that they provide.

The marked reduction in children’s borrowing figures is extremely worrying.

We are witnessing the most appalling and rapid decline in library services, particularly in England, with no decisive action being taken by central government to address this or to superintend.

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You can access the full Powerpoint presentation, here: Public libraries 2014-15 – Tim Coates

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3 Replies to “Sort out CIPFA, says Tim Coates, and TLC agrees”

  1. Shirley Burnham 8 years ago

    Swindon gained a spiffing 3rd place for the number of active borrowers per 1,000 population, out of 16 comparator authorities graded on “engaging with the public” said Twitter yesterday. We were also told that 1,049,172 people visited Swindon Libraries between April 2014 and March 2015. But the scope of the cuts our council now wants to make to its libraries budget (at least 65%) means we’re unlikely to have a service that can serve a fraction of that number in the future. I appreciate that CIPFA data must be available, informative and up-to-date – but, oh, how chilling it is that in today’s harsh, philistine environment, we outshine others & even win a rosette yet still risk losing the lot. There is a terrible *human* cost to what is happening to our libraries across the country. And this human element seems to be pretty much ignored by those who have the power to intervene or help. I beg the Taskforce and Ministers, indeed all those who search statistics and data for a reason to act, to respond to the pleas from the mass of humanity that still relies on the professional service and stand up NOW to protect it.

  2. Steven Heywoid 8 years ago

    I agree that the data’s flawed and partial but I’d argue that this isn’t CIPFA’s fault: they’re a victim as much as anyone else.

    CIPFA data is pretty basic operational management information and isn’t difficult to collect (I’ve been doing it for a couple of decades). The methodology for some elements is open to interpretation but so long as each LA applies its local interpretation consistently then the data’s good for trend analysis.

    The Society of Chief Librarians, the collective owners of the data, should be posting the complete data set on their web site as a matter of routine, not leaving partial publication to third party organisations.

  3. “the CIPFA data should be produced by July 2016”

    There’s a definite lack of ambition in that sentence. How about:

    “All usage activity in any public library should be reflected in publicly available open data, at least by the next morning of that activity”.

    It’s also not unrealistic. It can start off with basic data (e.g. raw data on loans being published nightly by each authority) and as long as the data is published to agreed fields there is no need for any third party to aggregate it or compile it into national stats – such aggregation can be achieved if the consumer of the data wishes it. Similarly there is no need to have annual releases, the timescales that the data is viewed would be up to those analysing it. They may want to compare it based on annual aggregation, or they may want monthly. Similarly those within the authority shouldn’t have to wait annually to act on the data – they can be looking at it every day.

    As to where the data should be published, there are existing public open data portals that could be used such as data.gov.uk and LG Inform – these provide the tools for anyone to access the data for free. The SCL could certainly act as ‘custodians’ of the data publishing and provide guidance. They could also take on the process of providing accessible reports on the data and providing these on the SCL website, but such reports are just one view of the data – the data ‘ownership’ is the public.

    The CIPFA stats have long been indefensible just for being behind a paywall – no library service should be submitting public data to any third party that the public then have to pay to see. The idea of public libraries is still one of the most radical we have in society – providing access to information for free. It’s a shame that currently public libraries are among the least radical and closed in providing data to the public. Certainly well behind many other public services.

    There is a chance though to put that right. By all means CIPFA data could continue to be submitted if libraries really want to (though it will become largely pointless), but not as a substitute for providing the public with the data that they have a right to.

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