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Poll: More than a million less books borrowed from Suffolk libraries in a year

PUBLISHED: 16:47 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 16:47 22 February 2013

More than a million fewer books were rented out from Suffolk libraries in the space of 12 months.

More than a million fewer books were rented out from Suffolk libraries in the space of 12 months.

MORE than a million fewer books were borrowed from Suffolk libraries in the last financial year – and children’s book loans fell by nearly 30%, new figures show.

Four million books were rented from libraries across the county in 2010/11, but only 2.8 million were borrowed in 2011/12 – a fall of 27%. Children’s book loans plummeted by nearly 300,000 to 830,000.

But last night a senior councillor said the future viability of Suffolk libraries was not under threat, insisting they still served a vital role in communities and remained important central hubs of resources.

Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial Provident Society (IPS) assumed control of the county’s 44 libraries from the Suffolk County Council in August 2012, potentially saving 29 “community libraries” that had been threatened by proposed cuts.

Councillor Judy Terry, portfolio holder responsible for libraries, said: “Our libraries are definitely not under threat. They offer a wide range of activities to young and old people and it is obvious there is still a demand for hard-copy books.

“Yes, the figures can’t be ignored and need to be treated seriously, but I don’t think they are worrying.

“We just have to recognise and address the fact that this is the current trend – but even if this trend continues I don’t think it will pose a risk to the future of our libraries.

“Libraries have to adapt and meet changing needs but they have been doing that for the last 30 years – and will continue to do so.

“They offer central hubs of resources and places of research. They still serve a purpose to the community.”

Physical books (as opposed to e-books) borrowed fell from 3,925,216 in 2010/11 to 2,862,620 in 2011/12 – a fall of 1,062,596 (27%).

Children fiction fell from 959,016 to 722,765, while there was a 29% decrease of children non-fiction – from 157,327 to 111,569.

Raising the Bar, a council-run initiative launched in June 2012, aims to improve education in Suffolk after the county was ranked 121st out of 150 local authorities for educational attainment at age 16.

But Graham Newman, the cabinet member for education and young people, said exams scores could now be affected, while admitting attracting young people back to libraries was going to “be a tough problem to solve”.

He said: “It is disappointing and distressing. Reading hard-copy books is an essential learning tool for children. It will still be vital in future ages no matter what the technological advances are.

“It teaches children how to think and discuss things with their parents. It improves their communication and confidence skills.

“They need to be sat with their parents reading books to each other because reading on the Internet or iPads or anything else is never going to be able to replace that.

“If children cannot read when they leave primary school they are in for a hell of a tough time at secondary school. You cannot make up for lost time like that. It will affect their examination results.”

Research has found that just three-in-10 children now read every day in their own time, shunning texts in favour of other activities such as television and games consoles.

Studies have also shown that children who frequently read with their parents gain significantly higher exam scores and keeping just 20 books in the home meant children remained in education three years longer on average.

But e-book loans jumped from 7,083 in 2010/11 to 15,238 in 2011/12, while e-audio loans shot up from 1,788 in 2010/11 to 2,638 in 2011/12.

Alison Wheeler, general manager of Suffolk Libraries, said: “We are not seeing less interest in books or in reading but these figures mirror the national trend towards more people using e-book readers and accessing books in other ways.

“There were still nearly three million book loans in 2011/12 and there is still a great interest in reading and library services in Suffolk.

“The growth of e-books and new technology has enabled us to reach out into the community and make the library service more accessible.”

Chair of Suffolk’s Libraries IPS Shona Bendix added: “Suffolk’s Libraries offer a great service to their communities and in line with the changing way people access books and information, libraries now offer a wider range of facilities for people to do this.”

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