Volunteering in libraries has increased by 8.9 per cent this year while staff numbers are down by 8 per cent, according to research from Cipfa.
In its annual national libraries survey the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (Cipfa) found that in 2011/12 there were 23,397 volunteers, and 21,780 staff, the first year that volunteer numbers have surpassed staff numbers.
Volunteer numbers have been tracked in the survey since 2007, the third year of its existence. Since then the number of volunteers has increased by 64 per cent from 15,008. Meanwhile staff numbers have dropped by 15.5 per cent from 25,769. However the figures do not compare like-for-like. Staff numbers are calculated based on the number of hours worked, while volunteer figures represent each volunteer, no matter how many hours they work.
Regardless, this year's figures continue a trend of increased volunteers but also a slowdown after an unprecedented 22.5 per cent increase last year. The previous year saw a 10.4 per cent increase in volunteers, and before that a 5.9 per cent boost.
Libraries have suffered from a gradual reduction in funding from fees, grants, donations and corporate income since 2005 which last year fell 6.3 per cent. However local authority funding, the main income resource, has also been tightly squeezed. Separate research from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip) earlier this month found that projected spending on libraries from 85 local authority respondents decreased from £565m in 2010/11 to £505m in 2012/13, a 10.1 per cent decrease.
Cipfa's research found that libraries continue to close, with an overall loss of 201 libraries UK-wide in 2011/12, taking into account those that have opened and those that have closed. There are now 4,265 service points, including mobile libraries in the UK.
Julian Mund, Cipfa's product development director, said: "Local authorities across the UK are working hard to identify savings and reduce their spending. Although there has been a large increase in the number of libraries and mobile libraries closing, it is important to note that the largest, most popular and viable libraries are largely staying open."