Pair that article with this Guardian article and it seems that British libraries are in widespread decline. It's hard to tell how much to read into two short articles, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (formerly British Library Association) is not acting like there is a crisis. In the US a 30% drop in adult patron usage would be a crisis. The quote from Mark Taylor seems to evince typical bureaucratic density, "these figures strengthen the case for rapid modernisation of library services across the country ". Well, that is what he would say if the numbers showed a 30% increase, or no increase... Statements like that only serve to lock people into their perspective camps and do not build allies.
But again, without a more detailed understanding of British libraries, their usage, funding, etc, it is hard to know what this means. There is also a significant difference to consider- there is no First Sale doctrine in England. Instead they have the Public Lending Rights Act of 1979 which actually allows authors to collect payment based on the number of times their books are checked out. It is hard to determine how much this changes the game for them. But my understanding is that it has a detrimental affect on their ability to create a large catalog of lending materials. As I understand it, they still have to buy each copy and then make payments for circulation on top of that price. Just imagine how much money they pay for Harry Potter and every other bestseller. My limited and anecdotal understanding of the practical effects of the PLR is that most British libraries cannot create the types of collections their American counterparts have, which probably augments the precipitous drop in library use documented above. We see quite the opposite in recent PEW reports where both lower and upper income Americans continue to utilize their public libraries. The British system is also much more centralized as significant funding for public libraries across the U.K. comes directly from the government, as do the PLR payments. At least that is my understanding of their system. There could be, and probably are, some fairly significant gaps in what I have communicated above, but the basic concept surrounding the PLR is accurate: British libraries make payments based on circulation.
So while it is distressing to see this happening in the U.K, the legal environment in the US would seem to indicate that US libraries have a chance to maintain their value.