Magazine article American Libraries

Analyst Claims UK Libraries in Decline; CILIP Begs to Differ

Magazine article American Libraries

Analyst Claims UK Libraries in Decline; CILIP Begs to Differ

Article excerpt

Public libraries in the United Kingdom are facing a crisis that could make them unused and irrelevant by 2020, according to a report released April 27 by business analyst Tim Coates. Titled Who's in Charge? the 25-page report, available online at libri.org.uk, finds that in the past 10 years library usage has fallen by 21%, circulation has fallen by 35%, and the national cost of public library service has risen by 39%.

Coates, a former managing director of the Waterstone's bookstore chain, said in the April 28 Guardian that in 1979 libraries loaned two-and-a-half times as many books as those sold in stores, but now the figures are roughly equal. His report--commissioned by the nonprofit Libri organization and funded by the Laser Foundation--recommends that public libraries triple their acquisitions budgets, increase opening hours by 50%, and refurbish their facilities to become more attractive to the public.

"In contrast to other sectors," Coates writes, "local councils readily employ more people, but are reluctant to find ways to reduce staff costs or improve productivity even when public service is seriously at risk. So few books have been purchased for such a long time that the whole national public collection of library books is now inadequate, making a description of the public library as the 'University of the Street Corner' a gross overstatement."

However, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals was quick to contest some of the report's conclusions. "Mr. Coates paints a picture of a public library service in terminal decline. It isn't," CILIP Chief Executive Bob McKee told the Guardian. "But the public library service is still a huge operation: Nearly 60% of the population are members, libraries lend 377 million books a year, and yet the whole service costs less than 2 pence in every pound councils spend."

Tim Buckley Owen, CILIP's head of membership, marketing, and media, told American Libraries that Coates was "certainly right to point to the decline in usage over the last several years, although when he projects the graph on forever to the point where there are no public libraries left in 15 years, we think that's completely unreasonable. …

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