We know that even before the current crisis, many local authorities were struggling financially and this is reflected in the cuts to library spending. However, even more alarming is that our members have told us that that they are now facing even larger cuts with an average reduction of 14% in their budgets for next year. This is unsustainable and will inevitably impact on the people who need libraries most.
We are also concerned about the fall in both the number of full-time employees and volunteers while the total number of volunteer hours worked increased. We know that volunteers play an essential role in supporting staff in libraries, helping them to deliver a wider range of services. However, these figures indicate an ongoing shift to a larger role for volunteers.
While we appreciate that there are a variety of models for community managed and delivered libraries, we believe that all libraries should be part of a professionally managed service to allow for better coordination and integration with local authorities across a range of services that include health and wellbeing, lifelong learning and education, and employment support.
The shift to digital services is also significant, especially given that these figures were gathered before lockdown began. It demonstrates that the balance between onsite, digital and now remote library services will need to evolve together into a new hybrid library model. However, the ongoing rise in digital engagement also brings additional costs to libraries; we have estimated a funding gap of £4million in England alone to meet the increased demand for eBooks this year.
During lockdown libraries and their staff kept communities connected and supported the most vulnerable. They have proved that they are a vital prevention and support service yet cost an average of just 0.6% of council spending. Adequate, sustained investment is essential if they are to play their full part in ensuring our communities recover from this crisis.’
CIPFA news release on their new library data