A major new study published by the Carnegie UK Trust revealing trends in library use across the UK and Ireland is challenging stereotypes about who uses public libraries in England.

The research, which compares library use between 2011 and 2016, has revealed that young people aged 15-24 years are the most likely age group to use libraries in England (51%), whilst those over 55 are the least likely to use a library (43%). Meanwhile almost half (46%) of 25-34 year olds are also now using public libraries, a rise of 2 percentage points since 2011.

As well as reaching more young people, many public libraries in England are also now serving many more people who don’t read books. Libraries across the UK have begun providing a much wider range services and activities in recent years. More than a third of people (37%) in England who read only one book a year now say that they use their local library. Forty percent (+5 percentage points from 2011) of people who only read one book every six months also now identify themselves library users. 

These trends are good news for English public libraries as they seek to attract new customers and protect their funding. However, the Carnegie UK Trust’s research also confirms that libraries across the UK and Ireland face a number of significant challenges. Overall library use in England has seen a decline of 4 percentage points from 50% to 46% since 2011 and all UK nations have experienced seen a steady decline in the number of  people using the library ‘frequently’.

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of Carnegie UK Trust says that libraries must make a persuasive case for continued investment in staff and services if they are to continue to meet the needs of local communities.

He said: “Public libraries remain an immensely popular civic resource, both in England and across the rest of the UK and it’s extremely promising that there’s been a rise in library use in England amongst those aged 25-34 and amongst non-readers.

“However, we know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities. Local authority budgets are under severe pressure. All of us who value libraries’ rich and varied contribution to our wellbeing must provide clear and compelling evidence of their impact if future investment is to be secured.

“We also know that the public want libraries to do even more. People in England told us that they would be more likely to use the library if they had better information about the activities on offer, if they could access more Council services there, if the library held more events or had a café or coffee shop on site.”

Neil MacInnes, President of the Society of Chief Librarians said: “The Carnegie UK Trust’s unique report is the only report that enables us to look across the UK and Ireland at how public libraries are used and what people think about them. It depicts the state of play, challenges and the opportunities ahead for public libraries in England.

“It is clear from the research that public libraries in England have an enduring place in people’s hearts and that they are highly valued services. We need to ensure that libraries continue to prosper and deliver against key policy goals and wellbeing. The Trust’s recommendations set out a way in which we can all work towards a thriving future public library service.”

The ‘Shining a Light’ report   is the result of a unique five year study by the Carnegie UK Trust and IPSOS Mori into public library use in the UK and Ireland The report is the only one of its kind, enabling data on changing use and attitudes towards library services to be compared across the individual jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. Around 10,000 face-to-face and telephone interviews were involved in total in 2011 and 2016 combined.