Thursday, 13 December 2012

Survey of public library authorities

CILIP recently published its survey of Public Library Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  A low response rate from Welsh authorities means that it isn’t possible to draw conclusions for Wales from the survey results. However, this provides a great opportunity to consider how Welsh Public Libraries might be faring.
On the 4th December 2012 CILIP published a survey report of public library authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland [1]. The survey’s key findings, based on responses from 53% of local authorities, were:
  • 60% have or expect to reduce staffing in 2012-13
  • Library opening hours are reducing by 1,720 hours per week.  Less than one in five of respondent authorities are increasing opening hours
  • 90% are not closing or do not expect to close any of their libraries in 2012-13
  • 50% are looking at or actively developing new models of governing and delivering library services
  • Nearly 75% have reduced revenue expenditure between 2011-12 and 2012-13
  • The reduction in revenue budgets from 2011-12 to 2012-13 is £22.5 million, a net cut in expenditure of 4.5%
The outcomes of this year’s survey therefore reinforce the trends identified in a previous survey [2], continuing to demonstrate reductions in opening hours, staffing and revenue expenditure. They also indicate changes in ways services are delivered including increasing numbers of community managed libraries and the co-location of libraries with other local services.

But does the Welsh experience mirror that identified in England and Northern Ireland? It’s a fascinating question, but one that would be unwise to answer from the results of this survey alone.

 It is regrettable that only six of the 22 Welsh unitary authorities responded to the latest CILIP survey (a response rate of 27%). Drawing conclusions and attempting to make generalisations from such a low sample return would be foolhardy. There were, however, some interesting indicators:

·    40% of Welsh responding authorities were reducing staffing, compared with 60% in the total survey.
·       Five of the six responding authorities in Wales had maintained service hours, with the remaining authority indicating a marginal increase in hours.
·   Five of the six Welsh responding authorities indicated that they were not implementing or considering library service point closures, broadly mirroring the overall survey results. One Welsh authority was possibly considering closing two service delivery points in 2012-13
·      Half of the responding Welsh authorities are looking at or actively developing alternative models of governance and service delivery, mirroring similar results in the survey as a whole.
·      Five of the six Welsh authorities responding to the survey reported revenue budget declines in 2012-13, but in four authorities these declines were less than 2.5%, markedly lower than the net cut indicated in the overall survey (4.5%).
·      Materials budgets increased in five out of the six responding Welsh authorities; increases ranging from 0.4% to 26%, although usually being less than 2.5%. When compared with the overall survey findings, 36% of authorities reported budget increases, whilst 54% reported decreased budgets, and 10% experienced no change.

There are, of course, other sources for public library evaluation in Wales, including: the UK-wide CIPFA annual library statistics; and the Welsh Public Library Annual Reports [3]. The latest CIPFA Statistics will be released in the New Year, but early published indicators [4] support the findings of the latest CILIP survey. I have yet to see an overview of findings from the Welsh Public Library Annual Reports published in October 2012, but this could only summarise the position in 2011-12, and would not provide indicators for current or anticipated status.

In the absence of solid evidence, how might the landscape of public libraries in Wales be characterised? Certainly a changing landscape, but perhaps the pace and direction of change differs from that experienced elsewhere in the UK?

·      Library use. In recent years, with increasing loan figures and visits, Welsh libraries have bucked the declining trend seen elsewhere in the UK. Although, in Wales, this trend may now be short-lived.
·      Revenue and Materials Budgets. In-built delays experienced through funding settlement mechanisms for the devolved nations probably means that Wales is generally a year behind England in experiencing public service budget cuts. This suggests that tougher times are still on the horizon. The context and challenges of having 22 relatively small unitary authorities in combination serving a total population of approximately 3 million also needs to be acknowledged.
·      A national strategy for Libraries. The Welsh Public Library Standards, as part of Libraries Inspire [5]– the national strategy for libraries – may have provided some leverage in maintaining the investment and commitment to Welsh Public Libraries.

However, there is also anecdotal evidence for shared experience with some aspects in England and Northern Ireland:

·      Staffing. Services are cutting posts, freezing vacancies or re-thinking their mix of staff.
·      Service point closure. Several authorities are considering closing service points, reviewing their services and removing mobile library stops.
·      Service Delivery Models. We are seeing shared-service delivery models, co-location and partnerships, with community managed services (however that may be interpreted) beginning to be suggested and discussed.

The state of libraries and the profession in Wales will continue to be monitored by CILIP Cymru Wales. Our liaison with key organisations, representative bodies and Welsh Government will also continue. We will welcome your feedback, thoughts and experiences in helping us chart future changes and developments. Please tell us what you think - contact !
Stephen Gregory , Policy Officer (Wales) - Maternity Cover 

[1] A changing landscape: A survey of public library authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
[2] The Eye of the Storm? – A Survey of public library authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland 2011-2012, CILIP, March 2012   

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