Do people use libraries?

One of the charges often levelled against the public library service is that it is declining in popularity, with fewer users every year, and no appeal to the young (who never bother to pick a book up anyway). But is that actually true?

Fortunately we have some up-to-date information that can give us an idea of what public library use is like in the UK. This comes in the form of the Taking Part survey, carried out by the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

This survey aims to gauge the extent of involvement of people in the UK in arts and leisure activities and, for the last three years, has shown library use holding up among adults rather than falling away, as some have suggested.

The most recent survey, covering the period from April 2010 to March 2011, shows that around 40 per cent of adults and slightly more than 70 per cent of children use public libraries. In the context of the services provided by local authorities, a take-up of two-fifths of adults is very good news and something that all of us who support the public library service can feel pleased about. It’s even better news that so many children use the service.

As well as showing a tiny increase in adults using libraries, the survey also reveals that library patrons come from a wide geographic and demographic range (rather than being “the poor” or “the middle classes”) and that very high satisfaction levels are reported by those people who already use their local libraries.

So maybe the picture isn’t actually so bleak as we are sometimes led to believe.