Use of libraries declines as cuts limit new books

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The British library service has been wrecked by a 12 per cent cut in spending on new books over the last 10 years, it is claimed today.

The situation is particularly bad in the capital, where spending has slumped by as much as 73 per cent in the north London borough of Brent and by an average of 45 per cent.

The investigation by the National Book Committee concluded that reduced spending had a damaging effect by reducing demand. It claimed that libraries which spent more on books were used more by the public.

Tim Rix, the committee's chairman, said councillors must not view the library service and its book fund as a soft option for cuts. "Books remain a powerful vehicle for information, knowledge and imagination. They are an essential ingredient in a civilised society.

"We must ensure that the public library service, built on the vision of our Victorian ancestors, continues to provide access to the riches that are within books to all sections of our community."

The committee, which represents readers, authors, publishers, booksellers and librarians, highlighted the 63 per cent drop in book purchases in the Islington constituency of Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, as being among the worst in the country.

In Barnsley and Wakefield in Yorkshire, and Sandwell in the West Midlands, there have also been cuts in provision of more than 50 per cent.

Expenditure in Wales has risen in the past 10 years, but remains below the United Kingdom average. The situation in Northern Ireland is even worse.

However, Scotland spends considerably above average for the rest of Britain.

Book loans have declined from an average 11.4 a head in 1984/5 to 9.2 in 1994/5, but the fall was nearly all in adult fiction. Overall loans of adult non-fiction or information books and children's books have been maintained.

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