LIBRARIES in Southampton fail to attract enough “active borrowers”, according to a Government study.
In contrast, the library service run by Hampshire County Council is praised because it “engages well” with local people and tempts more visitors.
However, a reader requesting a missing book is more likely to receive it within one week in Southampton than if they live elsewhere in Hampshire.
And both authorities can claim to issue more books than the average across England, regardless of the numbers through their doors.
Those are some of the conclusions of new “comparative profiles” of local councils, produced by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).
They are intended to help library authorities ensure they are delivering a good service for local people – and to identify where they are falling short.
The profiles – produced for some, but not all, councils – cover scores of measures, taking in library users, resources, workload, stock and performance.
They cover the 12 months to March 2013, two years after the start of steep cuts to town hall budgets which sparked protests over library closures in some areas.
Each authority is compared with a “basket” of councils of similar size elsewhere in England, rather than all others – so Southampton is not directly compared with Hampshire.
Based on research by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the study says Southam-pton has fewer libraries – 12 – than its peers.
And it concludes: “The library service does not engage as well with the population when compared to the other authorities.”
Hampshire, however, can still boast 59 libraries, described as “one of the highest numbers of libraries within the group”.
The research adds: “Hampshire is in the top quartile suggesting that the library service engages well with the population when compared to the other authorities.”
Budgets are also compared, showing Southampton spends less on its libraries than other authorities – while Hampshire’s spending is about average.
But the county council successfully supplied only 59 per cent of book requests within seven days, while Southampton managed 63.9 per cent.
Southampton leisure boss Councillor Matt Tucker said a review into the future of the library services currently under way would address any failings.
In terms of the spending, he said the city was under severe financial strain following years of Government cuts.
He also questioned if library usage could be measured by people borrowing books alone because people now have access to e-books and other digital services available in city libraries.
No one at Hampshire County Council was available to comment.