The UK had 201 fewer libraries in 2011/12 than the previous year, a drop of 4.5% on the total of 4,466 in the financial year 2010/11 as reported by the www.guardian.co.uk based on results from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. Other reported figures are no less depressing - book issues down by 4.2%, though more children's fiction was taken out than in the previous year. For the first time there are more volunteers working in libraries than paid staff. Net expenditure is down down 5.1%, and forecast to drop a further 4.8%. There's also a depressing drop in visits to the web, down from 114,142 in 2010-11 to 97,721 2011-12 (figures are in 000s).
None of this should really come as any surprise at all, and in some real senses is utterly meaningless. Some people (mainly politicians I suspect) will simply start bleating on about how it means that we don't need libraries any more, and how out moded they have become, and they willl use the decrease in use as further justification for further cuts. This is of course totally nonsensical. The figures drop because people can't get to their nearest library any longer because it's been closed. They take out fewer books because the range of books is reduced. It doesn't mean that people value libraries less, or want to make less use of them. Furthermore, the figures don't show the true value of a library service. Where are the figures that show how many people were helped back into work? How about the number of people who were able to get valuable health information? The number of children who have a better quality to life by being able to read more effectively? The people who have been given hope by being helped out of abusive situations? The extent to which people are able to regain a level of respect through the use of the library? Those figures are just as important - if not more so, and those are the ones that are sadly missing from this accountants list.
In other senses the figures are very important indeed. The destruction of the library service in the UK continues almost wholescale, despite the best interests of 'Friends of' and other campaign groups working incredibly hard. The glib promises from politicians that it's not as bad as everyone has been making out look more fragile and hollow than a 50p Easter egg. In the current climate, where everything is measured by money - and only money that is immediately visible people's lives don't amount to much. Their ideas, their hopes and their aspirations are seen as nothing, because they can't be matched against pennies. The future that well educated children, capable of reading and enjoying reading can provide us with is not included in a spreadsheet.
Libraries are more than the stock. Libraries are more than the figures walking in and out of the library. A library - properly and efficiently run by a professional librarian can enthuse and empower a community and can make a real difference to everyone that it touches, both physically and virtually. The more libraries are cut, the more communities are destroyed. So yes, the statistics are depressing, but what's really depressing is the fact that the people who should care; local and national government all too often don't, since they can't take their eyes off the calculators.