Public figures released by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) today paint a grim picture of the damage wrought to the UK public library sector by years of budget cuts. According to CIPFA’s announcement, “the long-term sustainability of council-run libraries across England, Scotland and Wales has been drawn further into question as budgets were cut by another £50m [$75.35 million] over the last year.” The number of public libraries, meanwhile, fell by 2.6 percent.
Data over a longer period makes even more somber reading. “Gross expenditure has been reduced by more than £180m [$271 million] (16%) over the course of the last Parliament [since 2010],” CIPFA continued. “Over the same period, visits have fallen by 13.6%.”
That said, the number of volunteer librarians, who staff public lending institutions for free, is rising. CIPFA noted that volunteer headcount had risen by 18.7 percent in just one year, although the number of paid professional librarians had fallen by 3.8 percent.
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA Chief Executive, said: “Once more, our annual library survey makes for grim reading. Cost cutting measures continue to hit unprotected services hard and fewer people are using public libraries. Yet there is some hope. Volunteer numbers have nearly doubled over the past five years. Tens of thousands of people are now giving their time to make sure these precious resources survive.”
Such public enthusiasm is laudable, but needless to say, there is no way that a volunteer can fulfill every role of a qualified and professional librarian. And you have to wonder why such contributions are even necessary. Some estimates of the total cost of Britain’s trumpeted intervention in Syria amount to five times the budget cutbacks for libraries in the UK over the past year. Millions for violence and diplomatic prestige, it seems, but precious few cents for knowledge.