The number of libraries across the country has continued to decline as cash-strapped councils reduce their spending on the service, survey reveals.
CIPFA’s annual library survey has found that spending by local authorities on public libraries fell by £30m in 2017/18.
The survey also showed that 127 service points were closed down this year, with the loss of 712 full time employees.
This follows a trend which has seen the number of public libraries and paid staff fall every year since 2010, with spending reduced by 12% in Britain in the last four years.
Visitor numbers have also continued to decline with a 10 million drop this year to 233 million visitors.
‘Libraries have faced significant cuts under austerity, with councils forced to reduce spending on all ‘non-essential’ services across the board,’ said Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO.
‘We can view libraries as a bit of a canary in the coal mine for what is happening across the local government sector, as we see it reflect many wider trends.’
Libraries have increasingly relied on volunteers to keep providing for their local communities. CIPFA’s survey found that 51,394 volunteers worked 1,780,843 hours in 2017/18.
‘A lack of funds is forcing many councils to get creative in how they deliver their services, and we find in our public libraries this loss of paid employees is creating a reliance on volunteers,’ said Mr Whiteman.
‘Similar cost shifting is happening across almost all local government services, with communities finding everything from legal aid to green waste collection no longer as accessible.
‘There really needs to be some honest conversations about the direction of travel of our councils and what their role is, as the funding gap will continue to exacerbate these issues.’
A new project to explore how libraries can be funded, managed and delivered in the future was recently launched by Libraries Connected and CILIP.