When was the last time you visited library? New figures show footfall decline

Visits to Whitby library are down by over half since 1999/2000 prompting fears over the future of the services, an investigation by The Whitby Gazette has revealed.

Thursday, 5th January 2017, 1:32 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 3:09 am
Whitby library. Picture: Scott Wicking

The figures, released through a Freedom of Information request, show that there has been an estimated 66 per cent decrease in visits to Whitby library, with 209,092 visits in 1999/2000, compared with 70,806 in 2015/16.

The new findings come after the revelation in September by our sister title, The Yorkshire Post, that library funding has been slashed by more than a fifth in the last five years, with 80 per cent of services in some parts of the region now run by volunteers.

The resulting situation, say campaigners, is inevitable.

Whitby Library recent celebrated its 50th anniversary. Val Arnold cuts the cake.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Dr Lauren Smith, from the national campaign group, Voices for the Library. “There are cuts to budgets, to staff, there is a lack of ability to take the first step in making strategic decisions. It’s almost a race to the bottom for authorities as to what’s the minimum they can get away with providing. Public libraries, first and foremost, came about in the 19th century to provide literacy and access to literature. We need to get back to the view that libraries are the cornerstone of democracy.”

The broader picture across Yorkshire is also one of steep falls.

In Rotherham and Leeds, comparable visitor numbers fell 30 per cent, and in Bradford 17 per cent.

Elsewhere, neighbouring Scarborough has also seen a significant drop in the number of visitors, with 540,982 in 1999/2000, compared with 257,043 in 2015/16, a drop of 52 per cent.

Whitby Library recent celebrated its 50th anniversary. Val Arnold cuts the cake.

Lee Taylor, management coordinator for libraries in the east coast region says there are a variety of reasons why people are now using libraries less.

He said: “We are now making our services available in many different ways, for example, you can now reserve and renew books online and we have invested in online reference resources which people with library cards can access from home. In the year 2000 you would come into the library to look at books as a reference point, whereas now people are using the internet more.

“Also, what happened in 2012 is the opening hours were cut from 46 hours to 35.”

Mr Taylor added that the figures released prior to 2009 are less accurate as they are based on a sample week times by 52 to give a yearly average, whereas from 2009 onwards they are gathered from an electronic counter at the main entrance of each library.

However, he did add that libraries remain the preferred choice for people who read for pleasure.