Was the drive to save our libraries worth all the fuss? Or is this a consequence of it?

The number of British adults visiting the library has fallen by 30% in the last 10 years, according to a new report commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Taking Part study found that in the year to September 2015, 33.9% of adults used the public library service – a fall of 30% from 2005/2006, when data first began to be collected, and when 48.2% of adults said they had visited the library in the previous 12 months.

The greatest fall in adult library usage was seen among 16 to 24-year-olds, according to the DCMS report. In 2005, figures showed that 51% of this age group used the library. In 2015, the figure fell to 25.2%. .

“The 30% decline in library usage over the past decade should have set alarm bells ringing but no one managing the service seems to take responsibility or knows what to do,” said library campaigner Desmond Clarke, a former director of Faber and Faber. “To ignore such a marked decline is frankly irresponsible, not least because it suggests a failure to meet the needs of all those who would benefit from an effective public library service.”

The most common reason for using a library less was ‘having less free time’

Clarke said that the libraries task force, which was set up by the government to “enable libraries in England to exploit their potential and be recognised as a vital resource for all”, needed to “face up to the issues if it is ever to help re-invigorate the library network”.

The DCMS-commissioned report pointed to a “similar trend” in data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which found that visits to library premises fell by 15% between 2010/2011 and 2014/2015, while the number of active borrowers fell by 23.5% over the same period.

CIPFA are not measuring quite the same thing as Taking Part, which measures the number of people who use the library, rather than the number of visits, but this decrease is still in line with, and of a similar scale to, the decline according to Taking Part data.

Trustee of the Library Campaign Elizabeth Ash said that “urgent action is needed to address the crisis in our libraries” and that the figures come as no surprise.

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