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English Library Borrowing Plummets While Us Remains Stable

10 July 2019

From The Bookseller:

New library borrowing figures from the US show how far England is lagging behind other countries because of its facilities’ falling book stocks, according to new analysis from library campaigner Tim Coates.

Using statistics from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, ex-Waterstones boss Tim Coates produced a chart showing English book loans have plummeted year-on-year since 2009/10 while American numbers remain relatively stable.

According to the statistics, book loans in the USA stood at 7.4 per person in 2006/7, peaked at 8.3 in 2009/10 and were 7.1 in 2016/17.

During the same span of time, Coates’ analysis of CIPFA data showed English book loans fell from 5.7 to 3.1 per person, a 46% decrease. Coates said this was well down on 8.6 in 1996/7, while England’s most recent figure available for 2017/18 was just 2.8.

Over a period from 2007/8, loans in Australia have also fallen, but far less sharply, from 8.2 per person to 6.6, a 20% drop, according to National and State Libraries of Australia data analysed by Coates.

He said the figures lend weight to his argument that library use in England is dwindling because there has been a move from making their sole focus books – something he claims has not happened elsewhere.

. . . .

Coates said: “25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK, which means the leaders of the profession, the local and national politicians and government officers responsible for the service, consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council.

“Across the UK the number has fallen from 90m to less than 60m and what remains is of low quality. They did it because they believed, and continue to believe, that libraries are more than about books’ and they should concentrate substantial resources to all kinds of other activities and purposes. In Australia and the US, while there was similar desire to widen the scope of the library service, they have not reduced the book collections at all.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Libraries, Non-US

6 Comments to “English Library Borrowing Plummets While Us Remains Stable”

  1. Sadly no mention of ebook borrows and such. I know they’re making a difference in US libraries.

    Case in point is my mother. Can’t get around very well and can’t hold the heavy hardbacks she used to love reading. She read over 700 library borrows on her first kindle before the screen went out. (She got a replacement, but doesn’t care for the larger size. Good thing Amazon has a sale going on next week! 😉 )

    • E-book borrows are making up for some part of the fall but are, I suspect, not nearly as significant as in the USA. The UK stats should be taken with a pinch or salt as there are problems both with the data collection and with the fact that there are huge differences between the results for library systems so the overall averages hide big variations in the outcome.

      As for you mother’s experience, my late mother-in-law was a very good customer of her (English) library, mostly borrowing genre fiction paperbacks at a rate of 200 to 300 per annum. Various health and mobility problems made this increasingly difficult and she bought herself two Kindle Paperwhites. Each month when my wife drove north to stay for a long weekend she took one of the Kindles with her (I’d loaded it with 20 or 30 new books) and swapped it for the other, which I then updated and started adding further purchases. MIL found these nearly perfect reading devices and entirely gave up on paper books and the library.

      In theory, she would have been an ideal candidate for borrowing library e-books but she had neither a PC nor a smart phone (and at age 90 didn’t want one) and anyway UK libraries do not seem to be able to supply books readable on a Kindle, despite some using Overdrive. For her, a single purpose e-ink reader was the perfect device (the latest Kindles where you can turn off features like the experimental browser would have been even better) and she had not even heard of alternatives to the Kindle; plus there was a wider choice of books to buy at Amazon.

      So MIL moved from part of the library’s long tail – pushing up the somewhat misleading average borrows per person – to a nil borrower. Meanwhile, I had long ago abandoned the library as a simple consequence of getting richer and buying the books I wanted (which often were only available with a long wait for inter library loan, if they were obtainable at all).

  2. The UK government closed a lot of libraries to fund tax cuts for the rich, if people can’t borrow books it will obviously have an impact on the number of book borrowed.

  3. I initialled decided not to respond to this comment as doing so could provoke the kind of pointless political dispute that PV normally avoids, an avoidance which is one of the virtues of the site. I also very much doubt if a discussion of the UK’s tax policy would be of much interest to the blog’s readers.

    However, to let it stand could result in casual readers being mislead. My view, which I believe is backed up by copious data for the last ten years, but which Marcus will naturally not accept, is that we have not had significant tax cuts and that talk of closing libraries “to fund tax cuts for the rich” is no more than an empty political slogan. I am not suggesting that you take my word for this but that – should you actually be interested – you make your own mind up after examining the evidence which is easily available on line (though it’s best to stick to the numbers and tax rates and regard all commentary with due scepticism).

    • The only questions I would ask about UK library funding is where does the money come from, who decides how much they get, and who decides how it gets spent.

      In the US all three are state/local decisions, not congressional issues. Is the UK different? Does Whitehall (or its bureaucracy) bother with those things?

      (Might be useful to know, storywise.)

      As far as I can tell, Canada is a mix of both.

      No clue on the antipodes.

      • This is probably a gross simplification: the money comes from the local authority (city or county) who have to take decisions – subject to legal constraints – on how to allocate their funds between there multiple responsibilities, so library services are competing with a host of other priority services. Further, as tax collection is largely centralised (income tax, VAT, corporation tax, etc.) the overall local authority budgets are largely determined by grants from central government which have been cut since the events of 2008.

        Note that this simplifies greatly by ignoring the effects of devolution. The real cuts in overall budgets followed on from the need to reduce the very large government deficit following the 2008 recession where the UK current budget deficit rose to 6.9% of GDP in 2010 from about 0.6% in 2008. Despite money printing (aka qualitative easing) and a lot of borrowing government spending had to be cut, or taxes raised and both were part of the process (the increase in VAT being the big tax rise).

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