Research by the Carnegie UK Trust, challenging stereotypes that libraries are for older people, has found that increasing numbers of younger people are using their local centre for something other than reading books.
And while it says this is good news for the sustainability of local libraries, it warns that a decline in the number of users overall means that centres must be ready to respond to the changing needs of communities.
“Public libraries remain an immensely popular civic resource, and it’s extremely promising that there’s been a rise in library use in England amongst those aged 25-34 and amongst non-readers,” said Martyn Evans, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust.
“However, we know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities. Local authority budgets are under severe pressure.
“All of us who value libraries’ rich and varied contribution to our wellbeing must provide clear and compelling evidence of their impact if future investment is to be secured.”
The research, published today, compared library usage between 2011 and 2016 through 10,000 interviews. It found that 51 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 years use libraries in England, compared to 43 per cent of those aged 55. As well as reaching more young people, many public libraries in England are also now serving more people who don’t read books, with more than a third of respondents who read just one book a year saying they now use their local library. But overall library usage, and the number of people using libraries, has fallen four per cent from half of all people in 2011 to 46 per cent last year.
This comes after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post revealed in December that footfall at libraries in some parts of the region has nearly halved in the past decade.
The figures, released through Freedom of Information requests, showed that in some towns and cities such as Leeds and Rotherham, footfall has fallen by about a third since 2005. And in Calderdale, the data showed visitor numbers dropped by 43 per cent.
Communities in North Yorkshire, meanwhile, saw falls of less than two per cent. Visits to libraries in York, which have operated independently of the council since 2014, fell just one per cent since 2012.
Leeds City Council said it is broadening its offer, with library services becoming part of community hubs incorporating a range of services. This has proved popular, a spokesman said, with visitor numbers rising significantly and an increase in opening hours. And councils in Calderdale, meanwhile, said ensuring libraries remain relevant in the 21st century is very important, stressing that a new strategy has been approved to ensure they remain “relevant to today’s society”.
The Carnegie UK Trust has set out a series of recommendations in its Shining a Light report, from making better use of data to understand users wants, to a more personalised library services recognising people’s increasingly diverse interests.
Neil MacInnes, president of the Society of Chief Librarians said: “It is clear from the research that public libraries in England 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.”