Reasons to be cheerful

In the week when Borders closes its doors, it would be easy to get quite depressed about the decline of reading, visiting and browsing in bookshops and libraries. The Bookseller points out in its editorial of 18/12/09 that in 2000 some 154 million books were sold. This year, that total is likely to be around 240 million. So, is it true that the public are buying more books rather than borrowing books from libraries and should that concern librarians or give them pride because they provide for those who cannot afford to fund their reading appetites?

It is a well-known fact that library bookfunds have declined over that period. What is overlooked is the impact of the fall in book prices since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and negotiation of greater discounts in library supply. In 1996/7 1,177,207 items were purchased for lending stock in libraries, compared to the 2007/8 figure of 1,239,099. More books are purchased by Scottish libraries than 11 years ago but are they better suited to the public’s reading tastes? Use of evidence based stock management, stock rotation and retail techniques and reader development training means that we have evidence that a wider range of interests are being provided for. The evidence from the use of active stock management approaches in Stirling, for example, shows that a pattern of declining book loans can be reversed. The Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix evidence has yet to show unsatisfied requests for Scottish material, although public demand for more books in general terms is clear.

Since the start of the recession SLIC has been monitoring changes in library activity and sees increases in visits and lending issues. Libraries have long promoted their value as reading plus and this case is supported again through a comparison of the 1996/7 visitor total of 27,603,664 to 28,609,357 in 2007/8. Libraries have diversified with the introduction of downloadable audio files and e-books. We’ve yet to see the long-heralded demise of the printed book but print on demand, use of e-books, book vending terminals, self service and downloadable audio files do mean that access to the world of the published world is vastly different. Library catalogues are web available 24/7, so are services like Ask Scotland, and it’s fascinating to watch virtual visits increase in the last 12 months by over 2 million to 12,846,283.

We’re getting better at what we do, even though times are very tough in local authorities. More than ever, we need to get our public and politicians behind us!

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