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UK library loans lag behind US, Australia

In the UK, library loans are lagging behind other countries, reports the Bookseller.

According to new analysis by ex-Waterstones CEO Tim Coates, UK book loans have plummeted year-on-year since 2009–10, falling from 5.7 to 2.8 loans per person. Going further back, in 1996–97 the figure was 8.6 loans per person.

In contrast, book loans in the US were 7.4 per person in 2006–07, peaked at 8.3 in 2009–10, and were 7.1 in 2016–17. Coates also found loans in Australia fell over the same 10-year period, falling from 8.2 per person to 6.6.

Coates said the figures support his argument that UK library use is dwindling because unlike other countries, there has been a move away from making books the sole focus of libraries. ‘25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council,’ said Coates.

According to Coates, the number of books has fallen from 90 million to less than 60 million, 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,’ said Coates. ‘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.’

However, library and information association CILIP CEO Nick Poole disagrees with Coates’ assertion that the drop in library loans is because of reduced book stocks in libraries. Poole told the Bookseller in June that cuts in funding were the main reason for the problem.

‘There are essentially five ingredients which make up a successful library—we need bright, attractive spaces, professional staff, good-quality book stock, good IT, and a diverse program of activities to help keep users interested. There is no doubt that better books in libraries equates to more use,’ said Poole. ‘The problem is that after 10 years of public sector austerity and local government cuts, we are running the service on a shoestring—which means we can’t deliver the great libraries and high-quality stock that people want everywhere across the UK.’


Category: Library news International