The squeeze on library spending shows no sign of ending, according to a TES survey of local authorities. More than two-thirds of the 55 authorities which responded expect to cut funding to their library service in real terms this financial year.
Spending on libraries has fallen by pound;54 million, in real terms, between 1993 and 1998 (a drop of 10 per cent per head) - with book-buying bearing the brunt of the cuts. This year, under a quarter of councils expect to increase their spending by more than the 2.1 per cent rate of inflation.
Libraries' book-purchasing power has declined sharply in the past decade. A decade ago, for every person in the UK, libraries were spending pound;2.26 on books. By 199697 this had fallen to pound;1.75. That real terms cut accelerated last year - with a further 13 per cent reduction to less than pound;1.50. Staffing levels have also suffered. There are now almost a thousand fewer full-time professional staff than five years ago.
Although the Government is investing around pound;200m in information technology for libraries, there has so far been no new money for books or extra staff. Britain's libraries now have nearly 8,000 fewer books in stock than they did in 1993. And each year only 10,000 new items are added compared to almost 13,000 five years ago.
Not all is doom and gloom. The stock of sound and video recordings has increased steadily over recent years. And in some areas jigsaws, toys and even exam papers can be found in the local library.
Yet although more and more people are buying their own books, book borrowing remains by far the most popular reason for visiting libraries. As the graphic shows, a separate TESLancaster University poll of public library use found that two in every three people who use libraries do so to borrow adult books - with a further 9 per cent borrowing children's books. Fiction is by far the most popular choice followed by books for study and biographies.
According to the poll, about one in every 30 library users is such an avid reader that they claim to have read everything the library has to offer. Whether this is due to falling bookstocks, however, is unclear.
The findings indicate that most people use libraries for recreation rather than formal education or work. However, one in 10 people used libraries to study and a further 15 per cent to find out information. Once there, a third of people made use of other facilities - including children's books, newspapers and information.
The quality of resources available in libraries depends to a large extent on how well local authorities have protected the service's budget. Councils' success in this area has varied greatly - depending on their priorities and the money allocated to them by central government.
The TES asked all 162 local authorities in England and Scotland details of how theirbudget has changed over the past five years. Fifty-five replied. Although figures are difficult to compare because of local government reorganisation, it appears that councils are three times more likely to have reduced spending on libraries than raised it. In two areas, Glasgow and North Yorkshire, the libraries' budget has been cut by more than a third.