UK government library use survey shows sad slide
September 30, 2013 | 1:49 pm
The UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS ) has just come out with its latest Taking Part survey “which aims to find out how people spend their time in the leisure activities and facilities available to them.” Headlined “A nation of culture vultures,” the survey shows over half of all English adults visited a museum or art gallery over the past year, and “78% of all adults in England had either attended or participated in the Arts .” However, it also reports only 37 percent of the poll using a public library in the past year, down from 38.8 percent in the previous year, and from 48.2 percent in 2005-06.
This, remember, is exactly the UK department responsible for library policy. It is also the one whose head, Ed Vaizey, just had a motion of no confidence passed against him by the the British professional body for librarians, the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP), over his library policy. And it’s interesting to speculate on the chain of cause and effect here. Is the survey simply reflecting patterns of library use objectively? They certainly don’t carry any explanation to put them into the context of continuing cutbacks in library services.
Might the Department use them in future to justify library cuts? That remains to be seen. But it’s not surprising that others involved in the debate were quick to make the connection between falling funding and falling usage.
In an article in the UK Daily Express entitled “Death of the library? Shock fall in users as government cuts bite,” Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP, was quoted as saying: “These figures are shocking but sadly not surprising. When there are less libraries, less librarians and less money to spend on stock you can’t be surprised if usage drops.”
So there you have it. If nothing else, the DCMS isn’t slow to provide fresh ammunition for its critics – wittingly or unwittingly.