Are libraries places where we borrow books?

Part 2. Updated with figures for 2001 and 2002.

Read part 1 first

At the time I wrote the original article, I only had figures up to the year 2000. Here I've updated the original graphs to include 2001 and 2002 [1]. First the graph for book stock. (Remember that the scale up the page is books per thousand population, so a figure of 2,000 represents two books for each person in the county.)

The level of two books per person, that so many libraries maintained during the 1970s and 1980s, now seems to be history. Essex is on its way down to join Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, both of which seem to have levelled-out at about three-quarters of their traditional stock levels. The anomaly here is Suffolk, where we have finally achieved the kind of level that everyone else has taken for granted for the last three decades. So, why does Suffolk look so good? Does the County Council really have the interests of library users at heart? The reality is down to lag in the system; the fact that decisions made one year take several more years to filter through to the statistics. Books have a natural lifetime, so when you see the curve plummet, it's as a result of spending cuts made many years earlier. Suffolk, because of all that book-buying in the early 90s to get the stock level up, must have a fairly large proportion of 'young' and 'middle-aged' books. For a few years, that keeps things looking quite good. What happens then depends on decisions made in the last couple of years. My guess is that the stock will decline very rapidly, but we shall see. I hope I'm proved wrong.

The next graph shows the number of loans per thousand population (so a figure of 10,000 represents 10 loans during the year for each person in Suffolk). As in part 1, the loans here are those for books only; the figure doesn't include other material such as videos and CDs.

I found this one really sad. The decline in borrowing continues, and Suffolk, which looked as if it might be bucking the trend, has (rather suddenly) joined all the others. That national figure of declining by a third over the last decade, mentioned in the Guardian piece [2] that originally got me investigating, seems to be the case here in East Anglia as well. Project the curves downwards (which isn't really a valid thing to do, but is very tempting), and there will be zero issues in about 15 years.

[1] CIPFA Library Statistics, 2001 and 2002
[2] Guardian Review, 15th November 2003.

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8th August 2004