Research and Analytics

Spend on British libraries drops by nearly 20m

Spend on British libraries drops by nearly 20m

Data released today by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) revealed that total spending on libraries in Great Britain decreased by nearly £20m over the last financial year, a reduction of 2.6% from 2018/19.

The trend of libraries growing increasingly reliant on volunteer hours has continued, with a reduction in both the number of full-time employees and volunteers but an increase in the total number of volunteer hours worked.

Since 2018/19, the total number of paid staff reduced by 2.4% (from 15,300 to 14,925). In the same year, the number of volunteers reduced by 2.6% (from 51,478 to 50,128) and their total hours worked increased by 1.4% (totalling more than 1.8 million volunteer hours).

In-person visits to libraries fell by 5% in 2019/20 (from 226 million to 214 million), while the number of web visits has continued to increase, with a 25.8% increase since 2015/16, and an increase of over 12 million online visits in the past year (131 million total online visits in 2019/20).

The data also revealed a 7% increase in expenditure on digital materials, including e-books.

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said:

‘‘It has been a tough year for local authorities who have had to make difficult decisions regarding many crucial public services, and library services are no exception.

‘‘This year’s findings show that the trend of libraries having to redesign their services and rely increasingly on volunteers continues.

‘‘The steep drop in spending on British libraries is only evidence of the fact that local authorities continue to have to do more with less – and this is having a significant impact on resources that are vital to our local communities.’’

Manchester Central Library remains the most visited library in Britain for the second year in a row with more than 2 million visits annually, followed by Wembley Library in Brent with 1.4 million visits.

There were a total of 165,885,367 books issued and 7.3 million active borrowers in Britain in 2019/20.








Library visits



Employees (FTEs)






Volunteer hours



Service points*



Books issued



*A service point is any library, static or mobile, through which the public library authority provides or directly manages a service to the general public. A static service point must allow access to the general public (not just specific groups) and, as a minimum, provide a staffed information point, stock loan facilities and a public access terminal. Departments within a single building should not be counted separately. Central libraries and branch libraries are counted as separate service points.  

The statistics are now available to download here

CIPFAstats Current Datasets