Partly one can blame the outdated stereotype of bespectacled dragons demanding absolute silence for putting people off. More recently, the image of the library as the warm retreat of the homeless hasn't helped either.I'm just not buying the fact that the concept of "borrowing" is no longer understood by people in the U.K. I lived in London for a few years, until the summer of 1999, and I didn't see that as a problem during my regular visits to the Richmond library. What struck me was how empty the library always seemed, no matter what day or hour I dropped by. In comparison to the regular crowds I've seen in several Houston libraries since coming home, the Richmond one may as well have shut down and no one would have noticed other than the regulars who came in to play or work on the computers provided for their use.
However nimbly they have adapted, modernised, lost books and gained technology, become determinedly "functional" as invaluable resource centres rather than bookstores, the libraries are always needing to boost their profile. They need more borrowers and yet, one of their biggest problems, in my experience, is that "borrowing" is not a readily understood modern concept, however well-embedded it was in Carnegie's day.
Even having seen that, I'm surprised that things are so bad for British libraries and I wonder what the real cause is. Americans often joke about our tendency to believe the stereotype about Brits being so much more "cultured" than the "boobs" in this country. Come on, my British friends, you are going to ruin your image if you don't start using your library cards again.