There’s a headline you don’t see very often! Yep, another statty type post I’m afraid, kinda sums up my week really. Anyway, I’ve been digging a bit further into the library statistics provided by CIPFA and found some more interesting results. Most interesting of all are the statistics related to library usage. Often library usage statistics simply refer to the numbers of people walking through the door. However, this does not take into account the increasing numbers of people who search the catalogue from home, reserve items or renew books they have on loan, borrow ebooks or eaudiobooks, consult reference resources like the Encyclopaedia Britannica – all things that once required a library visit but can now be achieved virtually. So, with that in mind, here are the overall figures for library usage for the past four years:
2006/7 – 401,332,115
2007/8 – 404,677,184
2008/9 – 438,480,469
2009/10 – 441,721,165
Yep, library usage has grown by 40 million in just 4 years, not bad going eh? Yes, I know, this combines physical visits with virtual visits and is perhaps misleading but, as we all know, many of the online visits have replaced the previous need to visit the library (ie for book renewals, reservations etc) so I think it is fair to combine the two.
A good indication of this change in usage can also be identified in the number of requests for items. Again, worth keeping in mind that it is now much easier to reserve items than ever before now you can do so from home:
2006-07 – 10,917,385
2007-08 – 12,026,938
2008-09 – 13,629,479
2009-10 – 15,025,060
Unsurprisingly given the ease with which people can now look items up on the library catalogue and reserve as appropriate. Certainly it indicates, as I have repeatedly argued, that people are changing the way people interact with their library but, crucially, they are interacting with their library and more so than ever.
However, this change in usage does bring to mind a number of questions. If, as appears to be the trend at the moment, libraries are devolved to local communities and handed over to the voluntary sector, what will happen to the IT part of the service? Who is going to ensure that those staffing the library have the skills to deliver the level of service that is required? I am not denigrating those that do volunteer but one wonders, where are all these highly computer literate volunteers going to come from? How are local communities and volunteer groups going to ensure that not only are their IT skills up-to-date, but that they also provide the equipment and variety of online services that current users require? Maybe I am misjudging the types of people who are likely to take over these services, but I do not see how they can possibly maintain these aspects of the service without sizeable funding.
I guess this all stems from the belief that libraries are all about issuing books and the only skills required are those needed to put books on shelves when they are returned, and stamped when they go out. Never mind the need to deal with complex queries that require advanced skills in Internet usage (it isn’t just a case of first result on Google you know!). Never mind the ability to provide a wealth of services online (including ebooks and digital collections). I’ve not seen a single person outline how these services will be provided by volunteers and local communities, perhaps because these services will no longer be provided. Given the figures provided above, it rather demonstrates how little people at the top understand both how libraries work and what libraries users expect from them.