Research and Analytics

Decade of austerity sees 30% drop in library spending

Decade of austerity sees 30% drop in library spending

Data released by CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) shows a 29.6% decline in spend on libraries since austerity began in 2009/10.

National spending on libraries topped £1bn in 2009/10, but dropped to under £750m in 2018/19.

Since 2014/15, the total number of paid staff has reduced by 15.1% (from 18,028 to 15,300), while the number of volunteers has increased by 24.3% (from 41,402 to 51,478).

The data also reveals how local authorities have redesigned library services in response to tightening budgets and changing consumer habits. Spend on audio-visual materials, such as CDs and DVDs, dropped by over 60% in the last ten years as libraries have moved towards greater use of online resources.  

However, this year’s survey suggests that things could be changing for libraries, with overall spend rising by 0.4% since 2017/18, despite 7 million fewer visits over the same time period.

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said:

“While we have seen a small uptick in the amount spent on libraries over the last year, budgets remain tight, with spending remaining well below 2009/10 levels.

“The findings show a sustained trend in which many services have been cut or redesigned, with councils’ ever-decreasing funds directed to priority areas such as social care.

“This is the current shape of local authorities. As the country prepares to go to the polls, candidates should be having honest conversations with the public about the role of local government, and the future of lower priority services such as libraries.”

The three most visited libraries – Central Manchester, Wembley Library in Brent, and Woolwich Library in Greenwich – continue to receive well in excess of 1 million visitors a year.

There were 174,695,508 books issued to 7,505,485 active borrowers in Britain in 2018/19.









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