Children across the country celebrated World Book Day on Thursday 7 March. However, research released on that day suggests that there has been a reduction of nearly 40 per cent in the number of books borrowed from public libraries since 2011.

The research, which was commissioned by the Labour Party, reveals that the number of books borrowed from libraries fell from 255,128,957 in 2011 to 157,387,109 in 2018 – a decrease of 38 per cent. In the south east region book issues were down 30 per cent, and the total book stock fell by a fifth. In the south west region book issues fell by 39 per cent, with book stock down 14 per cent. The research drew on data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Last year CIPFA data showed that nationwide 127 libraries had closed in 2018, and that there had been a big increase in ‘community-run’ library branches, staffed mainly by volunteers.

Commenting on the research findings Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said ‘It’s a scandal that almost 100m fewer books are being borrowed from our public libraries. Council budgets have been cut to the bone…and our library services are paying the price’. He added ‘World Book Day is a great opportunity to celebrate how reading opens up whole new worlds for children and adults alike but everyone should have access to books and the joy of reading. The government should urgently rethink and end these senseless cuts.’

Nick Poole, chief executive of Cilip, the library and information association, said ‘Far from signalling reduced demand for books by the public, these figures show that if you slash library budgets, you reduce reading and all of the positive benefits that go with it. These cuts often target the poorest communities where people can’t afford the cost of buying books for themselves. Britain risks becoming a nation of library haves and have-nots.’

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