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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 02:15 GMT 03:15 UK
'UK libraries out of use by 2020'
People in library
Spending on books at UK libraries has fallen considerably
Libraries have been failing the public by providing them with often old and incomplete collections, a charity says.

Its report claims that visitor numbers have halved since 1984 and, if this trend continues, people will stop using UK libraries in the next 20 years.

Libri, the charity that campaigns to improve almost 5,000 public libraries in the UK, has recommended that spending on books must be trebled.

Opening hours should be extended and buildings refurbished, it adds.


Reading remains popular, with a resurgence of bookworms amongst youngsters following the success of JK Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

Public libraries have failed to meet the need for a broad range of books, to be open at times when users are able to visit and to be clean, welcoming places to visit
Tim Coates, Libri

The number of books sold in the UK has gone up by 20% since 1997.

But the report 'Who's In Charge?', has said whilst UK libraries have seen local council funding rise by 25% since 1999 to 1bn, spending on books has fallen dramatically to just 9% of the total budget.

One local authority will not be spending anything on books this year, according to the report.

The report's author Tim Coates, who has previously worked in the publishing industry, based his findings on data from national sources and the Hampshire library authority.

He blames councillors for a failure to focus on the decline and wasting public money, and the Audit Commission for not making sure that proper value for money services have been provided.

Below standard

Mr Coates has said that the service has to be made relevant to the library users of the 21st century.

"Public libraries have failed to meet the need for a broad range of books; to be open at times when users are able to visit; and the entire community to find libraries to be clean, welcoming places to visit and in which to study," he said.

Mr Coates added in the report that books have been a low priority for library managers, and 200m is spent each year on outdated practices and unnecessary administration - 24 is spent on a 10 book.

Opening hours are still only two thirds of the standard set by the government with only a handful opening for more than 50 hours each week.

Mr Coates called many library buildings gloomy, uninviting and run down, and said opening hours should increase by 50%.

All this can be done by re-allocating available money rather than raising extra funds through taxation, the report has said.

Also, beacon libraries should be established to show how improvements can be made to all libraries.

The government has called a library summit for June 21 to discuss the future of UK libraries.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Nationally our libraries are suffering"

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