I Have A Dream….

…that one day, a little context will be given whenever stories such as this one are published (from The Bookseller):

The proportion of adults visiting a public library has steadily decreased over the past few years, from 48.2% in 2005/06 to 39.4% in 2009/10, according to new government statistics. The decrease in library-goers has continued over the last year with a drop of 1.7%.

Now, I’m not going to make light of the decline, but it would be nice if the piece also explained that a number of services that once required a visit to the library can now be done from your computer (renewals, reservations etc).  It is fair to say that the increase in access in this way probably accounts for a sizeable junk of the 1.7% decrease.  After all, one person switching to reserving on-line results in a 50% decrease in visits for that one person (as I have explained before).

This lack of context is compounded by the following quote:

“If you ignore those people who visit just once or twice a year, only 29% of the adult population use our public libraries. That figure was 38% just four years ago. The fall is truly dramatic.”

It is simply not true to state ‘only 29% of the adult population use our public libraries’ based on these statistics.  You can argue that only 29% of the population visit the library, but not that they don’t use it.  Use of the library incorporates a plethora of online services, all of which only require one visit to join.  Once joined you are free to make as much use of the public libraries as you wish without even leaving your home.  The truth is, when you consider remote access to public libraries, it is very difficult to quantify exactly how much of the population actually use the library.  It is certainly fair to see that 29% is probably an underestimate of the true figure.  Let me reinforce the point, I am not making light of these figures, they are concerning.  But let’s have some context please when using such statistics.

Like I said, I have a dream……..


** To clarify, here is how the report defines adults in relation to libraries:

The respondent will be asked if they have used a public library service. If the respondent is unsure what is in scope, the interviewer will have the following definition to refer to.

“Use of a public library can include:

  • A visit to a public library building or mobile library to make use of library services (including to print/use electronic resources or to take part in an event such as a reading group or author visit)
  • The use of on-line library resources or services remotely (i.e. used a computer outside the library to view the website, catalogue or databases)
  • Access, and receipt, of the library service by email, telephone, fax or letter
  • Receipt of an outreach service such as home delivery or library events outside a library building
  • Use of other libraries and archive services is excluded.”

Whilst this includes library access via the Internet, note it states ‘if the respondent is unsure what is in scope’. I’m sure we all know what most people will think of when asked if they visit the library…I’m sure most people would envision physical access to the building and not remote access via the website. Although I am prepared to be persuaded that this is not the case.


2 thoughts on “I Have A Dream….

  1. Pingback: Page not found « Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian

  2. Pingback: The Media and the Public Library Narrative « Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian

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