Nearly 130 public libraries closed across Britain in the last year

Guardian |

Almost 130 public libraries have closed in the last year in Britain while an extra 3,000 volunteers have been brought in to run remaining services, as the decade’s austerity pressures see local authorities continuing to apply swingeing cuts to budgets.

The annual survey of British libraries by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) has revealed a similar picture each year since 2010, with the number of branches and paid staff falling every year.

Over the last year, spending on libraries by local authorities fell by £30m to £741m. There was a net loss of 127 public libraries in England, Wales and Scotland, while 712 full-time employees lost or left their jobs and volunteer numbers increased by 3,000, to 51,394.

“Community-run” library branches have become the norm in the UK as councils ask volunteers to take the service off their books. In 2010, estimates from Public Libraries News suggest there were only around 10 libraries in the hands of volunteers; by 2017, the figure had risen to around 500. Cipfa calculations show that 10,000 new volunteers have joined Britain’s library service over the last three years, increasing from 41,402 in 2014-15 to 51,394 in 2017-18.

Rob Whiteman, CEO of Cipfa, said libraries were “a canary in the coal mine for what is happening across the local government sector”.

“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,” he said. “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 need 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 fell by 10 million this year, to 233 million, the three most popular libraries in Britain – Manchester’s central library, and the Wembley and Woolwich Centre libraries in London – continued to see more than one million people enter their doors last year.

Tim Coates, the former managing director of Waterstones and now a library campaigner in the US, said Britain’s woes were unique. “The real heart of the problem with British public libraries is that they are terribly badly operated and managed,” he said. “The decline in use has been going on for over 20 years, since long before the cuts in funding started, and no one in government or the library profession or sector has taken the action needed to improve. There have been literally dozens of ineffective and wasteful reports and initiatives.

“The US and Australia show increased use and popularity of their traditional public libraries, so it cannot be true to say that ‘changing technology or changing society’ have caused the decline. If the service is not used it is only reasonable for taxpayers to pay less … People certainly want public libraries, but not in the way they are operated at present. The service is poor. We need a whole change of management.”

Nick Poole, chief executive of Cilip, the library and information association, called the figures “a clear wake-up call” and called on the government to use the forthcoming 2019 spending review, announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in October, to invest in libraries once more.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

Comments

Crypto World in Review: Taking in the Good with the Bad

A lot happened in the cryptocurrency industry this week.

Emerging Growth

MGX Minerals Inc.

MGX Minerals is a diversified Canadian mining company listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange. MGX is engaged in the acquisition and development of industrial mineral deposits in western Canada that…