Perspectives of Public Library Use 2: A Compendium of Survey Information

Maurice B. Line (Information and Library Consultant, Harrogate)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Line, M.B. (2000), "Perspectives of Public Library Use 2: A Compendium of Survey Information", Library Management, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 330-333.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Did you know that the second most heavily borrowed non‐fiction book in 1997‐1998 was The Complete Theory Test by the Driving Standards Agency (why do drivers study theory rather than practice?), and that the subject that showed the greatest increase in the number of titles published between 1981 and 1997 was by far Customs/Costume/Crafts? That the age group 45‐54 was responsible for most books bought, and the age group 55+ for most books borrowed? Endless games could be devised on the basis of this compilation.

This is a successor volume to Perspectives of Public Library Use, published in 1995. It is not a new edition, and any possessor of the first volume must not throw it away; there is no repetition. It contains two types of material. The first is library and book statistics, based on data from CIPFA, BML and other sources. The library figures include income and expenditure, book stock, visits, and borrowing; the book figures include market sizes, prices, numbers of books published, book selling, book buying, and lists of bestsellers.

The bulk of the volume consists of summaries of over 40 works (nearly all reports) produced in the period since the previous volume. Some of these are well known, like the Aslib Review of the public library service in England and Wales; others, like the exit survey by Capital Planning Information and several dissertations, are not published, and are not otherwise easily accessible. It is enormously helpful to have this mass of material expertly summarised and contained between two covers. There is a generous and judicious selection of statistical tables from the reports.

The material is arranged roughly by subject, e.g. “National perspectives on public library use”, “User surveys”, “Information and communications technology”, etc. The grouping is a little artificial, and some reports could be in a different section; for example, “Stock management” includes a study of adult fiction use and Bryant’s report on UK title output.

I have some minor frustrations and criticisms. First, the volume is “perfect bound” (a misnomer if ever there was one) and is impossible to keep open except with the help of quite heavy weights: a definite handicap, since the book is intended for reference, but one that could be easily overcome by making it ring‐bound, like some of LISU’s other publications. Second, most of the volume is about “books”, which however sometimes mean volumes of monographs or serials, sometimes monographs only. Serials as such receive little separate attention, though one of the dissertations summarised is concerned with them. The reason is presumably that the available information does not allow the necessary analyses – in which case steps ought to be taken to improve the available information. A major study of serials in public libraries – their selection, use, etc. – is overdue. Third, the title is not quite accurate, since stock management and other aspects are dealt with as well as use; and “in the UK” really ought to be added.

These are small niggles. The volume has a useful selective bibliography and a good index, and is very well laid out and produced. It is a most valuable piece of work, which no public library can afford to be without. And if the price seems a little steep, it is the same as for the 1995 compilation, which had only three‐quarters as many pages. (Also, if three copies are bought, they cost only £45 each.)

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