A CALL has gone out for more investment in libraries after the number of books borrowed reached record lows.

Renowned Oxford author Philip Pullman said the Government needs to do more or society will suffer.

The total number of books taken out from county council libraries last year fell below three million for the first time since 2000.

In just five years since borrowing reached its 4.2m annual peak in 2011/12, total lends plummeted 33 per cent to 2.8m in 2016/17.

The publishing industry, however, has reported record-breaking sales of books and journals, suggesting we are reading more than ever.

The figures come weeks after Oxfordshire County Council reopened Oxford's central library at the Westgate Centre following a £6m overhaul.

Mr Pullman, who attended the opening and was also the tenth best-selling author in the UK last year with his new book La Belle Sauvage, said governments had not given local authorities like Oxfordshire enough money to run a proper library service.

The author, who lives in Cumnor with his wife Judith, said: "Libraries are closing all over the place, our mobile library service had to be cut, and it's quite clearly this austerity business which has been in operation for eight years now.

"They're expecting local authorities to make do with what's left after they pay for all sorts of other things from their meagre funds."

Without adequate funding, he said, libraries were not able to buy the most popular new books which most people wanted to read.

And, Mr Pullman warned, if libraries in Oxfordshire did start to close because they were not used enough, society as a whole would suffer.

He said: "Take Blackbird Leys: there is a library there, and a young mother with a toddler and a baby can take them to sessions there every week – it's free, it's warm and it's busy.

"If that closed, the argument would be that she could go to the Westgate, but put yourself in her position: she's got to get the toddler ready, get the baby in the pram, get the bus into town which costs money – it's too much: she won't do it.

"Libraries perform a social function for the young and old: they connect people, but the great thing is when you're there you can browse books, and children and go down those shelves and find something they didn't know they'd be interested in, like a book about snails."

Asked what should be done to help libraries, Mr Pullman said: "Vote out this miserable government and get one in which is prepared to spend more on vital services."

Across the UK over the past decade, library book borrowing fell by about a third – 100m a year – from 323m in 2005/06 to just over 206m in 2015/16.

In a report last year, library management services provider Axiell said 'public libraries, like all services delivered by local authorities, are under pressure to cut costs'.

Jacky Atkinson, former Cherwell School librarian and now UK co-ordinator of the international Kids Lit Quiz, said she had not seen any diminution in children's enthusiasm for reading, but warned that cutting librarian posts could render libraries useless storage facilities rather than vibrant spaces to fire that enthusiasm.

She said: "A lot of libraries are now manned by volunteers, and I have nothing against volunteers but it is a great shame if libraries lose professional librarians because they are there to advise people, particularly children.

"Libraries aren't just a place to borrow a book: they are a place to meet, read a paper, use the internet, then people will often borrow a book as well.

"I think we need to keep our public libraries open and perhaps change them so they are more community spaces."

Oxfordshire County Council said it had not closed any public libraries and said there was nothing unique about Oxfordshire's borrowing figures.

It went on: "Nationally public libraries are seeing a decline in the number of library books borrowed, which reflects the changes in peoples reading habits, and we are seeing this in our borrower figures.

"The way that people use libraries has changed over the years to suit their changing needs and preferences and Oxfordshire County Libraries offer a rich variety of activities and services that make them vibrant community spaces which are accessible to a wider audience and are used by citizens in different life enhancing ways."

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government did not respond to a request for comment.

Library book borrows in Oxfordshire (excluding ebooks):

2000/2001 3,735,428

2001/2002 3,558,280

2002/2003 3,789,440

2003/2004 3,656,457

2004/2005 3,734,009

2005/2006 3,934,433

2006/2007 3,950,816

2007/2008 3,936,186

2008/2009 4,108,986

2009/2010 4,194,134

2010/2011 4,190,078

2011/2012 4,240,092

2012/2013 3,987,757

2013/2014 3,764,590

2014/2015 3,492,352

2015/2016 3,167,124

2016/2017 2,842,640