Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Public Library Statistics - a further Welsh perspective

The recently released CIPFA Public Library statistics show that Welsh libraries have experienced declining visitor numbers and loan statistics - marking a change in fortune for these services. This is accompanied by declining financial resources, stock levels and a decrease in the number of service points open in Wales. The release also demonstrates how easy it is to go wrong with statistics. There are lies, damn lies and statistics!

Last week I blogged about the results of recent CILIP survey of public libraries. Unfortunately the low return rate from Welsh library authorities meant that it was not possible to conclude, with any certainty, how Welsh services are faring. The recent release of CIPFA Public Library Statistics provides some further information which is worth looking at from a Welsh perspective. (Note - free registration on the CIPFA web site is required to access the summary statistics. All statistics quoted here come from this CIPFA release.)

In recent years Welsh Public Libraries were heralded for successfully increasing their annual visitor numbers. Unfortunately this trend now appears to be in reversal, with a fall of -0.8% from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (Table 1). However this still compares favourably to the overall results for UK services where visitor numbers reduced by -2.4%. Scotland and Northern Ireland are in the enviable position of increasing their footfall. Decline is also seen in the number of visits in Wales when adjusted for population and when considering the proportion of active borrowers.

Table 1. Visits to Library Premises (000s)

2010-112011-12% change
UK Wide313,987306,591-2.4%
Total England264,272256,125-3.1%
Northern Ireland6,8867,4037.5%
Visits per 1,000 population
UK Wide5,0434,849-3.80%
Total England5,0604,823-4.7%
Northern Ireland3,8274,1147.5%
Active borrowers (000s)
UK Wide11,92011,412-4.3%
Total England9,8569,391-4.7%
Northern Ireland2943022.7%

A decline in visitor numbers, perhaps not surprisingly, is also linked with lower issue statistics for both books and audio, visual and electronic media (Table 2). Although again the decline is generally less marked in Wales than elsewhere in the UK.

Table 2. Issues of books, audio, visual and electronic materials (000s)

2010-112011-12% change

Bookstock issues
UK Wide300,004287,505-4.2%
Total England255,129243,951-4.4%
Northern Ireland5,9145,805-1.8%
Audio, visual, electronic and other materials
Total England20,67518,345-11.3%
Northern Ireland31038323.5%
* 2011-12 includes electronic products e.g. e-books

Welsh public libraries are continuing to face challenging financial constraints with a 2.2% decline in net expenditure, although generating nearly 5% more income in 11-12 than in the previous year. The fall in expenditure is less marked in Wales than it is for the England and for the UK as a whole, although Northern Ireland bucks this trend with marginal increases (Table 3).

Table 3. Expenditure and Income (£'000)

2010-112011-12% change
Total Expenditure (£'000)
UK Wide1,158,8341,098,399-5.2%
Total England952,920895,612-6.0%
Northern Ireland33,95734,1380.5%
Total Income (£'000)
UK Wide92,42486,893-6.0%
Total England80,89475,357-6.8%
Northern Ireland1,6401,7416.2%
Net Expenditure (£'000)
UK Wide1,066,4101,011,506-5.1%
Total England872,026820,255-5.9%
Northern Ireland32,31732,3970.2%

Table 4 suggests the complex relationship between budget size, stock levels and purchasing priorities. In Welsh libraries non-book materials increased by 6%, whilst bookstock declined by over 6%. Do these figures reflect the Wales-wide agreements for online resources and e-books for public libraries? Does the bookstock figure also reflect a small decrease in the number of service points now open in Wales, or simply the fact that stock withdrawals exceed new purchases because of budget constraints?

Table 4 Bookstock and Audio, visual, electronic and other media holdings (000s items)

2010-112011-12% change
Bookstock (000s)
UK Wide98,94594,342-4.7%
Total England78,38374,277-5.2%
Northern Ireland2,5252,400-5.0%
Audio, visual, electronic and other materials (000s) *
UK Wide8,0747,963-1.4%
Total England6,4936,345-2.3%
Northern Ireland218212-2.5%
* 2011-12 includes electronic products e.g. e-books

Rarely a week seems to pass without stories of library closures featuring in the press and this is reinforced with the most recent CIPFA statistics. However, here some care needs to be applied. The Welsh statistic indicating closure of over 40 libraries is incorrect. (At this stage I can only speculate on  how such an error may have occurred). A more accurate figure would be of the order of -1.8% a decline from 353 libraries in 10-11 to around 347 in 2011-12 might be more appropriate.

Table 5. Number of Service Points (open 10 hours or more). (***) Please note the error in the Welsh statistics

2010-112011-12% change
UK Wide4,4664,265-4.5%
Total England3,3933,243-4.4%
Wales (***)353309-12.5%
Northern Ireland1261270.8%

Closure of service points, reducing stock levels and library budgets will all potentially impact on service users, the shape of library provision within Wales, and on our roles. CILIP Cymru continues to monitor these changes, to liaise with partner organisations such as CyMAL and the Society of Chief Librarians in Wales, and to advocate for library services and library professionals wherever we can. We eagerly await access to the full CIPFA Public Library statistics. Please share your news with us too. Knowledge is power!

However, we should also recognise that innovation thrives under the toughest conditions. Difficult times encourage change and development, radical evaluation of services, and the development of new partnerships, of new ways of working. The Public Library located as part of the National Trust Visitor Centre at Tredegar House in Newport is just one example of such innovation. There are many others: the Connect to Cardiff service point located in Cardiff Central Library; Swansea Central Library's home in the Civic Centre. Further models are out there and will develop. But change need not be radical or massive. What are you doing to ensure that your library retains and if possible grows its footfall? How are you innovating to encourage and retain the online users? Again, please let us know of models of innovation that you are introducing or working within. You feedback will be appreciated.

Stpehen Gregory
Policy Officer (Wales) - Maternity Cover

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