Books key to libraries, says MLA survey

Books remain the main reason why most people use libraries, according to a new research study published by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

Seventy-six per cent of users go to libraries because of their love of reading, found the study, carried out by Shared Intelligence and Ipsos MORI. Meanwhile 44% go for study, and 17% to find local information, while 14% view the library as somewhere to take their children.

The study also showed that book choice and staff expertise were highly valued by library users. "Both users and non-users often expressed concern about books being 'squeezed out' for other services and although they accepted greater automation, they do not think this should be at the expense of maintaining a knowledgeable and helpful staff base," said the MLA.

The strategic agency added that "while books remain at the core of the public’s expectation for the service, there is clear demand for customer-friendly features such as online book lending, children’s facilities, adult classes, helpful staff, convenient opening hours – and a good cup of coffee".

Seventy-four per cent of current users surveyed described libraries as "essential" or "very important" in their lives, while fifty-nine per cent of non users also thought libraries play an "important" or "essential" role in the community. The study also suggests that the divide between library users and non-users is artificial, with people’s reliance on the service varying as their life circumstances change - for example through taking up study, becoming unemployed, having children or retiring.

MLA chair Sir Andrew Motion commented: "As councils grapple with difficult decisions about where to allocate shrinking funds, this timely research highlights the value attached to library services, even unselfishly among people who are not current users. We all appear to recognise that as individuals there are times we need libraries and times when we might not, but as one community, we benefit from them all the time."

Roy Clare, MLA chief executive, said: "This study helps point to where the library service should be heading at a critical moment as costs need to be cut. It suggests that it is better to plan for the longer term to provide a convenient modern service, with comprehensive book stock, digital access, helpful staff and a range of activities, than to maintain the costs of less-welcoming buildings with steadily reducing opening hours and declining stock."

Books key to libraries, says MLA survey: