Library use compared with other things: a snapshot in 2015

UPDATE: June 2016.

I wrote the post below in August 2015 - I was very excited about the stats showing that, despite the overall decline, the sheer number of library visits compared very well with lots of other activities people in the UK take part in. I used a hyperbolic headline ("Visiting libraries is the most popular activity in the UK") which was designed for maximum impact, but was, in the way of headlines, lacking in nuance. It seems naive, looking back at it, and I flinch a little every time someone tweets it now, nearly a year later.

Part of the reason for this is a that the stats are a snapshot of that time - all the sources of figures, listed in towards the bottom of the post, were the most recent available at the time of writing. Most will have changed since then - including the main library use stat, which was for the 2013-14 financial year. CIPFA posted more up to date figures in December 2015.

So the principle of this I still stand by - comparing library use with other activities is a good way to reframe the story of decline in use. But OBVIOUSLY to be used in any kind of serious way in 2016 and going forward, up to date figures would be required. Also, you'll see below I wrote very specifically: " need to attribute anything (except the original data sources)."

The Society of Chief Librarians are using the figures below in some posters they brought out at the recent SCL Horizons event. They chosen not to comply with the my wish above that the original data sources be attributed and they've wilfully ignored the most recent CIPFA figures so have knowingly promoted misleading figures on the grounds that 'the stats would stand for next year'. (What? They're stats for a specifc year. They stand for that year only.)

I feel partially responsible for this because I wanted this stuff to be used and I was delighted so many people shared it when it first came out. I made it CC-0 precisely because I wanted people to take it and run with it (and because I don't 'own' the collation of a series of statistics anyhow). But I feel like the SCL were pretty remiss to reproduce this stuff for their big event (apparently there is great demand for the poster) in 2016 without acknowledging that the figures are for a specific period of time. They've said that the banner was a one off and that the poster version will be corrected and updated - I very much hope this is indeed the case.

I'm always struck by just how many people use libraries in the UK. It's a mind-bogglingly huge amount.

When we hear about the figures they're always couched in terms of reductions - CIPFA tells us about the continuing decline, noting that UK visits to public libraries in 2013-14 fell to 282 million, from 288 million the previous year. I'm not surprised it fell - we lost 49 branches and 1,000 full-time-equivalent staff in the same period.

But why do we never take the figures in isolation? 282 million visits! That's MASSIVE. And then I started wondering how that compared with other things we visit in the UK. I came up with a list of as many as I could think of, and guess what? We visit libraries more than we visit ANYTHING else. In fact, we visit libraries twice as often as we visit football matches, theatres, A&E and the Church combined.

I mean come on!

So inspired by some utter drivel from the Telegraph about a new Government initiative about libraries (more on which another time), I've come up with some different ways of expressing the comparisons between how often we visit libraries versus other things we visit.

Everything below has no licence attached to it so please use it however you wish - tweet it, blog it, embed it, remix it, change it, and no need to attribute anything (except the original data sources). I just want this message to go as far and wide as possible.

Library usage stats broken down into smaller timeframes

I'd be really keen for people to make their own versions of these - I'm sure we can do better than what I've come up with below. This is the perfect size to tweet as it won't need expanding to be viewed on Twitter.

I really like this version from @bookmarkpeople, too:

Here are all the subdivisions if anyone's feeling creative with comparisons:

  • 282 million library visits per year
  • 23.5 million library visits each month
  • 5.423 million library visits per week
  • 772,602 library visits per day
  • 32,191 library visits per hour
  • 536 library visits per minute
  • 8.9 library visits per second. For every second! Of the entire year! I mean seriously, how the hell can people claim we don't need libraries any more?

Library usage stats on Sway

Here's the first version of the stats. It's done using Sway, a new tool from Microsoft. Direct link to the presentation here.

Clicking the button above will allow you to tweet a link to that Sway presentation. I also did a vertical scrolling Sway in a slightly different style - take your pick! Both Sways allow duplication, so if you want to take them as a starting point to make your own version, feel free - improve and enhance it.

Library usage stats on Slideshare

A slightly different approach for this one - a teaser format where the most popular activity isn't revealed until the very end. Here's a link direct to the slides.

The slides were Featured on Slideshare's homepage and also tweeted by the CEO of the Arts Council, so hopefully we're getting beyond the echo-chamber!

Library usage stats on video

Here's a YouTube video - the same statistics as in the slides, but this time made in PowToon.

Library usage stats: the raw figures

Here are all the raw figures I collected - if you take these and do something interesting with them, let me know in a comment and I'll add whatever it is to this list!

230 million library visits in England (282 million in UK):

Cinemas: 165.5 million admissions:

Church of England: 52 million visits:

The UK itself: 32.8 million visits from overseas in 2013:

Theatre: 22 million attendees in 2013:

Hospital A&E Departments: 18.5 million visits

Premier League Football: 13.9 million total attendance

There used to be Museums and Galleries figures here, but they turned out to be just for DCMS owned insitutions so I've removed them - thanks to Ian Clark for the heads-up.

Library usage stats: as a Google doc

And finally, if you want to do stuff with the data it may be useful to have it in a spreadsheet: here's a Google doc. It's set to 'anyone can view' - if you want to edit or add to the data etc just make your own copy.

What other people are doing with the stats

The first remix has arrived! Really pleased that Adlib has redone the graphic at the top of this page but for Canadian libraries.

I hope others will be encouraged to take this basic idea and run with it - either by finding new ways to express the information, or finding new information, or redoing some of these resources for different parts of the world...

Spread these messages however you want, as far as you can. And keep the statistics to hand - every time someone says 'we don't need libraries in the digital age' we can respond 'actually 772,000 people in the UK will need them today alone!' and all the rest of it.

Let's do this!

This isn't just a library, it's an M&S library...

So they want to put libraries in supermarkets, eh? Well that could work - depends on the supermarket. Iceland - maybe not. Kerry Katona eating snack-sized party favourites whilst dead-eyededly telling Jason Donavon about how she saved 33% on her access to SWETS resources, equals bad. But Marks & Spencer, on the other hand...

With deliciously free Wifi access, and an achingly gooey selection of online resources wrapped up in gorgeous single sign-in, presented on a bed of modern, bright interior with brightly coloured children's areas, filled choc-full of tender, flavoursome books, CDs and DVDs and more...

Etc etc.

Anyway, I'm behind. I only get online for short periods of time at the moment. But today I've had an hour or so to catch up with the latest headline grabbing library statistics, which equate to a drop in public library use in this country. I've got a big old blog post on statistics planned when I get more of an opportunity - in the mean time though, Ian Clark's piece is essential reading for everyone - read it now! :) The part of it that is really interesting is statistics from CIPFA show that while library footfall is indeed down, the numbers of web visits is up (from 07/08 to 08/09) by a massive 49%. A hypothesis immediately presents itself - the way people use libraries is changing, they don't have to visit them so often due to the accessibility that comes with internet access (not least because they can renew book loans online - that alone accounts for a huge amount of library visits no longer necessary), so although visits to the building are down, the use of the library per se is not.

Sadly, the Government - or, to be more specific, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - have NOT chosen to take into account internet access in the report which forms the basis for the recent headlines. Take a look at the report for yourself - you can download the spreadsheets detailing the figures, as well as the actual Word document with all the analysis, here. It's 2010, yet the report only looks at library use from the point of view of whether its subject, to quote it directly, 'Has visited a public library in the last year'.

[snarky aside] Guess how I accessed this report? Online. So does that mean that, according to this report's way of analysing 'use', I haven't read it at all because I didn't go to Westminster in person and pick up a paper copy?

Buffoons. [/snarky aside]

Anyway, the figures are quite interesting - mainly fairly miserable reading, but the clouds part to let some light through on occasion:

  • Black and ethnic minority use of libraries is up since last year (it's only by less than half a percent, but hey, no one reads the details of these things anyway, right?)
  • People who are religious but who don't classify themselves as Christian's use of libraries is up since last year (same again with it being by only a tiny amount, but still)
  • 11-15 year old girls use the library quite a bit more than they did in 2006/07 when the figures were first collected
  • The number of 5 to 10 year olds (of both sexes) who have visited the library 'in the last we'ek has gone up by more than 20% over last year...

HA! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, doom-mongers! On a serious note, I think that's encouraging - good to see that even during a down-turn in overall visitation, some minority groups are finding more reasons to visit than before. Incidentally, the report says, more than once, "The decrease in library visits is consistent across all socio-demographic groups." Maybe I'm missing something, but that seems quite a sweeping statement in light of the stats above. If the report itself glosses over any positives, what hope is there of the headlines picking up on anything other than the negatives? In the same Ian Clark blog post I linked to above, he makes another point I think is interesting, true, and very important: "...the narrative is not being controlled by the profession but by those who either do not understand the service or are trying to undermine it for their own ends." In this case, the Government itself is undermining the service with a report whose own headline conclusions are apparently determined to see only the negative even where the figures can be seen positively - it doesn't take much of a cynic to interpret this as a classic Tory 'softening up' before they unleash massive cuts. Happy days. How can we take back control of the narrative?

Interestingly, the sample size used to generate the recent, poor figures, are much, much lower than the sample size of the earlier ones. Does that mean the figures are wrong? Probably not, but they are certainly slightly less valid than the original ones - asking 6,000 people about their library use does not represent England nearly as well as asking nearer 30,000. Some of the regions surveyed are only represented by a couple of hundred respondents. Anyway.

Libraries in pubs and supermarkets? Yeah, why not.

Among the proposals the Government are considering is sticking libraries into pubs and supermarkets apparently. This has perhaps understandably met with some derision from the library community. But actually, I think this idea is considering.

Providing the pub and shop branches didn't replace actual purpose-built libraries, why not take our resources to where the people are already? After all, that's why social media works so well - that's why we all love Twitter. Because we're on Twitter anyway, so the news, views, links etc come to us. So why not follow a similar principle with libraries? Clearly the part of libraries that would easily transport to other venues is mainly going to be the traditional 'borrow a book' part - but that's okay, it will get people interested, and maybe, just maybe, they'll be tempted to visit the library proper and see what else we have to offer.

Maybe there'll even be a Halo Effect! (See the comments section of this previous blog post.) So to use the example in that link, the National Archive digitise collections, and then withdraw them from circulation in order to preserve them. They do this on an epic scale; more and more gets digitised every day. The statistical upshot of this is fascinating - physical consultation of the actual collections they digitise goes down (in most cases to near zero), but physical consultation overall goes up. People are finding what they want online, and they get so hooked and interested that they end up requesting other stuff which hasn't been digitised, so they have to go to TNA to see it in the paper. Digital use and paper use are both way up, together.

Perhaps it is worth, then, trying to embrace the idea of libraries in different places and ensure it's done well so we can reap any benefits, rather than just assuming it's a completely hopeless idea...

- thewikiman