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The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), “the only professional accountancy body exclusively dedicated to public finance in the world,” has just released the findings of a survey of the situation in the British public library sector which suggest that all the protests and loud objections against library closures have finally started to have an effect. According to the results, as detailed in the journal Public Finance, CIPFA found that only 74 libraries had closed during its 2012-13 survey period, versus 201 in the preceding year.

Library visitor numbers also held up well, declining only 6 percent against the previous year’s poll, while book lending slipped only 2.3 percent – hardly convincing evidence for those who argue that libraries can be dispensed with because readers are deserting them. A more ambivalent data point, though was the 44 percent increase in volunteer staff numbers to a new level of 34,000 volunteers, versus a 6.8 percent decline in actual salaried staff to just over 20,000. While the level of volunteer support is great to see, it is also precisely the kind of statistic that some policy-makers might want to use to justify offloading public libraries to the volunteer sector entirely.

The Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library – the UK’s most popular library

As quoted in Public Finance, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman noted that UK local authorities: “now also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public,” while also remarking that “the surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new and innovative ways to engage and serve their communities.”

Most popular UK library on the two scales of visitor numbers and books issued was the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium library – appropriately enough for England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

 
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