I keep hearing this, repeated like a mantra. Footfall numbers in libraries have fallen. We can’t expect to keep libraries open when the evidence shows that footfall is down…
It’s made me think about how I use libraries and the way that has changed in the last few years.
If I want to read a particular book, I might once have gone into the library, looked for it, and if I didn't find it, I'd probably have gone away and thought about whether I could be bothered to put in a reservation for it. If the answer was yes, I’d go back in and reserve it, and then I’d finally go to collect it. Now I search for the books I want and reserve them on line, and only go into the library when the books are ready for me. One visit in place of two or even three.
When I want to renew a book, I do it on line.
If I want to refer to a newspaper from the past, I no longer drive to the main county library to use their microfiche. I log into the library website and use my library card number to access Gales Virtual Reference Library.
I’m not using my library any less than I did – in fact I’m potentially using it rather more, because those facilities are at my fingertips. But I bet my personal contribution to the footfall is down quite a bit.
It seems to me that libraries and librarians are being judged by something that is out of step with the real world. No one is counting the use people make of web, email or phone based services: services which libraries want to and must provide in order to keep up with the modern age. So local branch libraries are finding that the more they promote these out-of-library services, poorer their performance appears on paper to be.
And now they are being punished for it.