Supporting Local Libraries: Protecting Services & Adapting to the Digital Age
Library visits in England, Wales and Scotland plummeted during the pandemic, to just 59.7 million visits in the year to March 2021, compared to 214.6 million the year before, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Library visits stood at 335 million in 2005. The number of books issued for loan has also declined dramatically. 72.9 million books were issued in 2020/21 compared to 165.9 million the year prior, a decrease of 56%. Furthermore, the total number of books stocked across public libraries decreased from 103 million in 2005 to 75 million in 2019. However, the number of online visits to libraries has continued to grow, increasing by 18% in 2020/21, to 154.7 million during the period.
Many libraries struggle to afford to employ staff, relying on volunteers to run them, outnumbering the 15,000 staff members. The number of volunteers fell by almost 50% in 2020/21, however, to 25,709. National spending on the library service fell from £1bn in 2009/10 to under £750m in 2019/20. In this time, some 773 library branches closed, with 3,667 public libraries in the UK in 2019/20. In 2020/21, however, the number of libraries increased by 5% to 3,842.
According to the Arts Council of England, 77% of people believe that libraries are either essential or very important to their community. Furthermore, library attendance is positively associated with well-being, with libraries improving digital and health literacy and supporting self-care and community prescribing.
This symposium offers librarians, local and national authorities, community cohesion groups and other key stakeholders, the opportunity to discuss the issues threatening the future of libraries and the solutions that need to be developed at all levels to ensure they remain a key part of British communities.