Call for action as new study reveals drop in frequency of library use

April 10, 2017

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• Carnegie UK Trust sets out five-point plan to boost public libraries
• Five-year research study involved 10,000 interviews comparing library use in 2011 and 2016 across UK & Ireland
• Data reveals that 1 in 2 people across the UK and Ireland continue to use libraries
• However, the nation is using libraries less often than five years ago

A major new report out today (10 April) provides both cause for concern and reason for hope for the UK’s pressured public library service.

The ‘Shining a Light’ report is the result of a unique five-year study by the Carnegie UK Trust and IPSOS Mori into public library use in the UK and Ireland. The report is the only one of its kind enabling data on changing use and attitudes towards library services to be compared across the individual jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. Around 10,000 face-to-face and telephone interviews were involved in total across 2011 and 2016.

The research reveals that on the whole, library user numbers have held up remarkably well since 2011, with around one in two people in the UK continuing to visit their local library. This is despite more than 300 library closures and 8,000 job losses in recent years*.
The study also reveals that**:
• The highest levels of library use is in Scotland and Ireland with the lowest in Northern Ireland
• Young people (15-24 years) tend to be the most likely to use a library
• Older people (over 55) are the least likely to use a library
• In England, many more people who read books infrequently are now using libraries than previously
• In Scotland and Northern Ireland more primary school children are now using libraries
• In Wales and Ireland the number of pre-school children using libraries is on the rise.
• The majority of people say that providing better information on the services that libraries offer would encourage more use
• Around ¾ of people say libraries are important to their community
• The gap in use between the top and bottom nation has closed dramatically in five years from 21 percentage points to 7

However, the data also highlights some worrying trends. In particular, there has been a significant drop in how often people visit the library. Previously, at least half of library users in all four UK nations visited the library at least once a month. Today, the majority of people who use the library do so less frequently.

In response, the Carnegie UK Trust has issued a five-point plan to boost the fortunes of public libraries. The Trust is calling for:
• Libraries to make better use of data to understand what people want and to provide better online library services;
• More personalised library services, recognising people’s increasingly diverse interests;
• More focus on demonstrating how libraries help to deliver key government policy outcomes;
• Innovation and leadership training for library staff; and
• Better sharing of ideas and successful projects between libraries.

The Carnegie UK Trust and its founder Andrew Carnegie built over 600 libraries in the UK and Ireland in the first part of 20th century.

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of Carnegie UK Trust, said: “Public libraries remain an immensely popular civic resource across the UK and Ireland. However, we know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities.

“If libraries strengthened their use of data they could better understand who in the local community is using the library, the services they are making use of and what people would like to see more of, which would enable them to keep their offering fresh and relevant.

“All libraries and library authorities can learn a great deal from the best libraries. There are many libraries carrying out engaging, innovative work that greatly enhances their local community. We need a step change in how best practice and learning can be shared.

“The reasons why some libraries succeed are varied but include: new buildings, co-location with other services, additional services, good book stock availability, accessibility, open spaces and much more.

“The key lesson is that libraries must be more confident, have better evidence and replicate best practice. This will create the confidence of funders to invest staff and money to ensure libraries prosper. Everything we have learned is that such investment can reap enormous positive rewards.

“There is not room for any complacency and it is critical that all public libraries redouble their efforts to demonstrate their value and make a compelling case for increasingly scarce resources.”

Neil MacInnes, President of the Society of Chief Librarians said: “The Carnegie UK Trust’s unique report is the only report that enables us to look across the UK and Ireland at how public libraries are used and what people think about them. It depicts the state of play, challenges and the opportunities ahead for public libraries across the UK and Ireland.

“It is clear from the research that public libraries have an enduring place in people’s hearts and that they are highly valued services. We need to ensure that libraries continue to prosper and deliver against key policy goals and wellbeing. The Trust’s recommendations set out a way in which we can all work towards a thriving future public library service.”

Pamela Tulloch, CEO at Scottish Library and Information Council said: “The Carnegie UK Trust’s “Shining a Light” report is the only comprehensive longitudinal research into the use of public libraries across the UK and Ireland. It reflects on use of public libraries from 2011 to 2016, a period in time which has seen great change within the public sector and public library community. This research reinforces the view that public libraries remain the most popular service which local government provides. The level of engagement from the public remains strong despite the challenges which libraries face.

“Particularly encouraging is the increased use of public libraries by children and families, ensuring that all children have equal access to reading materials at crucial learning stages. Public Libraries have targeted programmes for children and families not only to support a love of reading but also to encourage confidence in the digital age.

“The recommendations which the Carnegie UK Trust have highlighted outline a future for the public library service across the UK and Ireland which will ensure it continues to provide that trusted community space supported by a knowledgeable workforce.”


For media enquiries, please contact Kirsty Anderson or Laura-Jane Cameron at Grayling on 0131 226 2363 or email [email protected]


• Young people aged 15-24 years are the most likely age group to use libraries in England (51%), whilst those over 55 are the least likely to use a library (43%). Meanwhile almost half (46%) of 25-34 year olds are also now using public libraries, a rise of 2 percentage points since 2011.
• Overall, library use in England has seen a decline of 4 percentage points from 50% to 46% since 2011 and all UK nations have experienced seen a steady decline in the number of people using the library ‘frequently’.
• More than a third of people (37%) in England who read only one book a year now say that they use their local library. Forty percent (+5 percentage points from 2011) of people who only read one book every six months also now identify themselves library users.

• Scotland continues to have the highest level of library use across all four UK nations.
• Overall, half of the Scottish population now identify themselves as library users. Whilst this represents an 11 percentage points drop in library use since 2011, when 61% of people used the library, this is the highest level of library use across all UK nations.
• More than 70%* of households with primary school aged children (5-11 years) in Scotland are now using public libraries, more than they were five years ago.
• More than 60% of people in the second lowest socio-economic classification (group 2**) now report using a library at least once a month.

*71% in 2016, a 3% rise since 2011
** Scotland’s deprivation index ranks from 1 to 5. In this scale, group 1 is the most deprived and group 5 is the least deprived.

• Library use among both the most and least deprived socio-economic groups has increased in Wales over the last five years*.
• There has been a slight increase in public library use in Wales from 45% to 46% between 2011 and 2016. Across the other UK nations, Northern Ireland has also seen its library use go up, but there have been declines in England and Scotland.
• The research reveals that more than half (51%) of all 15-24 year olds now use public libraries in Wales, an increase of nine percentage points since 2011. Meanwhile more than half of 25-34 year olds are also now using public libraries.
• Alongside the growth in library usage amongst young people in Wales, there has also been a significant jump in library use is amongst households with pre-schoolers (0-4 years) and primary-aged children (5-11 years). The number of households with pre-schoolers using the library has risen by seven percentage points to 55% and those with primary children by three percentage points to 59%.

*Library use across the AB segment has risen by 6 percentage points to 63%, whilst use has also increased amongst the most deprived groups by 8 percentage points to 47% for Ds and 5 percentage points to 36% for Es.

Northern Ireland
• There has also been an encouraging increase in library use among young people aged 15-24 years in Northern Ireland, following a one percentage point rise to 45%. Meanwhile, there has been a 10 percentage points increase in 35-54 year olds using libraries (from 43% to 53%).
• Forty-three percent of people in Northern Ireland now identify themselves as library users, up from 40% in 2011. Across the other UK jurisdictions, Wales has also seen its library use go up slightly (45% to 46%), but there have been declines in both England and Scotland.
• The number of households with pre-school children (aged 0-4) using libraries in Northern Ireland has risen by six percentage points to 59% since 2011, while, almost three quarters (71%) of households with primary-aged children (aged 5-11) are now using libraries – a rise of 15 percent-age points in the past five years.

• Library use among those who are in part-time employment has increased in Ireland by nine percentage points to 61%, as has usage among those who are not working, which has risen by two percentage points to 58%
• The research reveals that over 60% of all 15-24 year olds now use public libraries in Ireland, an increase of eight percentage points since 2011. Meanwhile more than half (55%) of 25-34 year olds are using public libraries – a seven percentage points rise since 2011.
• Alongside the growth in use by young people, libraries in Ireland are also now attracting more households with pre-school aged children (0-4 years). This group shows a rise in library use of nine percentage points to 58% in the period 2011-2016.
• There has also been a rise in library use amongst the most deprived communities in Ireland, with nearly half (48%) of those in one of the lowest socio-economic group (DE) now identifying themselves as library users – up four percentage points from five years ago.

About the survey
Carnegie UK Trust commissioned Ipsos MORI Scotland to undertake a study examining use of, and attitudes towards, public libraries in the UK and Ireland. The survey was previously conducted in 2011. This was the first time comparable data was generated across the individual jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. In 2016 new questions were added to explore important new issues such as the role of volunteers and potential changes in services. A total of 5,376 interviews were conducted between 1st June and 7th September 2016. Those aged 15+ were interviewed in Ireland and England; those aged 16+ were interviewed in Wales and Northern Ireland; and those aged 18+ were interviewed in Scotland. More information can be found here: Insert link to project page.

About the ‘Shining a Light’ report
There are eight parts of the report:
• Data booklet which gives the data and big picture ‘headline findings’ from across all jurisdictions,
• Country Factsheets which contain the data for individual jurisdictions
• Policy report which contains the lessons from the data and recommendations for policy makers, decision makers, funders and the sector
• Secondary research by Ipsos MORI which compares the findings from the Carnegie UK Trust research with those of existing research

Definitions in press release

• Use – used or contacted the library in the 12 months preceding the survey
• Frequent use – used or contacted the library at least once every month in the 12 months preceding the survey

About the Carnegie UK Trust
The Carnegie UK Trust was established in 1913 by Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It seeks to improve the lives and wellbeing of people throughout the UK with particular regard to people who are disadvantaged.

The Carnegie UK Trust has supported public libraries for over 100 years The Trust currently seeks to support libraries by developing innovative policy and practice projects. This includes an innovation and leadership development programme Carnegie Library Lab, an advocacy resource called Speaking Volumes and previous support for the development of Scotland’s first national library strategy ‘Ambition and Opportunity’