The Impact of Non‐fiction Lending from Public Libraries

David Harrison (Service Planning Manager, London Borough of Bromley, Leisure & Community Services )

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Harrison, D. (2000), "The Impact of Non‐fiction Lending from Public Libraries", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 1, pp. 40-48.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This publication is based on a Masters dissertation entitled “A survey of the nature and extent of the impact of adult non‐fiction printed items borrowed from public libraries within the East Midlands” and focusses on 400 questionnaire‐based interviews undertaken at Lincoln and Grantham Libraries in Lincolnshire, and Loughborough Library in Leicestershire, during September and October 1998. The interviewer selected his targets from people carrying books through the foyers of these libraries: 400 respondents who appeared to be of secondary school age and above were approached on a random basis, approximately one‐third at each of the three libraries. The full questionnaire is appended to this volume.

Given this methodology, the analysis of the respondents is interesting in itself. There is an almost equal split between male and female library users selected, which is not typical of subjective appearances of public library users, nor of previous library surveys which indicate anything up to a 62:38 split. However, this has to be tempered by an understanding of the size and location of the service point being surveyed, from which it is clear that larger town‐centre “central” libraries are more heavily used by males, who seem to eschew the smaller, local branch libraries. The age grouping shows a similar pattern of variation: whereas the CIPFA PLUS archive for 1997 reveals that 27 per cent of respondents were in the over‐65 age bracket, “the current survey had a much smaller proportion of 65 and over users – 18 per cent compared to 27 per cent – and correspondingly larger proportions of all the other age groups”.

So what are the main findings of this work? They are described in six sections entitled “User behaviour”, “Reasons for borrowing titles”, “Use of borrowed books” (only 29 per cent of these were read in their entirety), “Impact of borrowed books”, “Stock management” and “Non‐fiction borrowing and advocacy of public libraries”. This last section seeks to defend public libraries in their quest for funding maintenance and development by demonstrating their effectiveness and impact on society generally and the local community in particular. It cannot be said to be totally successful in achieving this ambitious aim. We are told that readers devoted an average of nearly six hours to each book borrowed and that 29 per cent of borrowers had taken their selected titles for a “practical” purpose. I’m not sure that the Treasurer of my authority would regard that as a good argument for increasing our book fund. This slim volume has card covers and a wire binding. The illustrative graphs and pie charts are in black and white.

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