For over 150 years, Britain’s public library service has made an essential contribution to the social, educational, cultural and economic well-being of local communities throughout the country. In 2006-07, there were over 337 million visits to more than 4,700 public libraries; 315 million book issues from a total stock of 103 million books; 8.7 million issues of audio, visual or electronic items; 64 million visits to library websites and a budget of over £1 billion. More people visit libraries than either football matches or the cinema.
And yet despite this, the service is regarded as being in crisis. This is primarily due to the long term nature of the impact of decisions which cut expenditure, building budgets, staffing, and training. The policy of commercialisation, privatisation and cuts in public spending pursued by the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in falling book acquisitions, a decline in library visits and book issues and a deterioration in the building stock.
A new report issued by public sector union Unison describes the library service as "nearing a crisis point after suffering years of funding cuts, deskilling of the workforce and recent threats of outsourcing."
Taking stock: the future of our public library service
(15/12/08) This report on the current state of the public library service concludes that it should build on its past successes; learn from the failed experience of contracting out other public services and go forward as a well-funded, publicly provided, top quality public service fit for the 21st century.