When there is talk of libraries and the hours they open, especially if there is a suggestion of reduction of hours or dare I say it, a closure; people tend to get very protective over the service, even though they may not have used the service often. However, in the current financial situation the Council faces, the library service provision will have to change. I have said it before; you cannot take near £196m in funding cuts and not have it affect services.
Cornwall Council is now six months on from its decision to reduce library opening hours. I thought it would be interesting to understand if these reductions of opening times have had an impact on the library service both in number of visits and the number of books issued. Let’s start with the number of visits over the last three years. For the period of 2011/12 there were 2,656,885 visits; 2012/13 – 2,471,442 visits and for 2013/14 – 2,415,350 visits. As you can see, there has been a steady reduction of visits over the last three years.
Looking at the six months before the opening hours reductions there were 1,054,819 issues and 1,042,111 visits. This period is:
Dec – 164,832 issues / 154,039 visits; Jan 195,268 issues / 187,756 visits; Feb 182,487 issues / 173,782 visits; March 173,640 issues / 182,962 visits; April 169,749 issues / 167,386 visits; May 168,843 issues / 176,186 visits
Let’s now look at six months after the opening hour’s reduction and the same period the previous year:
June 159,238 issues / 154,039 visits; July 193,143 issues / 181,414 visits; Aug 190,671 issues / 185,734 visits; Sept 164,703 issues / 164,066 visits; Oct 166,857 issues / 164,066 visits; Nov 149,655 issues / 154,460 visits. This is a total of 1,024,267 issues and 854,142 visits.
Same period previous year:
June 193,472 issues / 190,698 visits; July 232,279 issues / 226,999 visits; Aug 246,075 issues / 235,063 visits; Sept 210,698 issues / 204,725 visits; Oct 170,570 issues / 208,280 visits; Nov 189,351 issues / 192,345 visits. A total of 1,242,445 issues and 1,258,110.
Now as you can see, there has been a 21% reduction of issues for the same period, but a 47% reduction of visits. If you look at the previous and post six month period the number of issues has dropped by 2.8% and the visits by 18% The evidence from the staff say customers are coming to the library and borrowing more. It is interesting to also note, Cornwall Council is in line with the national trend in reduction of visits and book issues.
As technology moves on, the library service has also seen a shift from traditional hardcopy issues to E-books and online resources. The number registered E-book users ‘live’ since April 2014 stands at 3764 and E-audio book (since April 2014) 1091. As for online resources (searches) the figure stood at 117,488 in 2012/13; 277,110 in 2013/14. I believe this type of useage will increase as devices become more affordable and the next generation sees using E-readers and the like as the norm and part of every day use.
No-one saying the reduction of hours has not had an effect on the number of visits, or the number of issues. However, I feel it is far better to have reduced opening hours, rather than closing libraries. Which the Council has so far avoided. Furthermore, and this is my personal view, I think we will see more of a ‘channel shift’ to electronic means of accessing data and books and Council must also move with the times and user demand. This might result in the current provision changing further.
Of course all this could have been avoided if the Council was not having to deal with huge financial pressures due to reduced Government funding. The whole Council is having to adapt, and I don’t think there is one department at the Council not having to change how it provides a service. Take for example Children’s Service which I have responsibility for. This service is having a 23% reduction in cash terms on its budget with increasing demands.