Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tim and Jim

We saw this the other day, a fan site where people, predominately women, gather to debate the oddly compelling charm of Julian Assange, he of Wikileaks fame:

Some critics think we're too negative about Tim. Snide is a word we've heard. Our shoulders are broad, but if he's so great, there's nothing stopping you building We've checked. It's free.


Monday, December 13, 2010

In a pickle

Our hero has frequently shared with the world his belief that there is no need for any library closures, but that library budgets could be cut, as if by magic, without any adverse effect on services. For the latest example see this post: There is no need to close a library.

We always thought this naïve at best. In the light of Eric Pickles' proposals announced today, we wonder if Perkins the Wondercat will change his tune.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The inside dope on the LIbraries Alliance

CoatesWatch had a whip-round; we've decided to forgo our usual evening tipple of a bottle of white cider each, and spent the money instead for the enlightenment of library campaigners everywhere. It cost us £2 from Companies House.

So what do we know? Lots of the Certificate of Incorporation is blank, but the salient points are these:

Address: 50 Isledon Street, London, N7 7LP (this seems to be a generic address for lots of companies, such as Aqua Terra Leisure, who run privatised swimming pools (this does not dispose us well towards them, need we say?)  and the Iseldon Partnership. One wonders if it is one of those dubious pseudo-offices which offer addresses and mail handling for all comers, fraudsters, terrorists, et al

The directors: William Iain Wolseley, born 12/2/47, management consultant, William Timothy Coates, born 11/illegible/49, author, and Jonathan Gibbs, another management consultant, a young 'un, born on 7/4/56. There's then a list of subscribers, the same three, but this time at home addresses in Bristol, Hampstead and Stoke Newington. This is information anyone can see, but we won't embarrass them by publishing them here.

We'll say more about the articles of association another time.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Please put a penny in the old man's hat

After the razzmatazz of its launch in an 'important speech' at a venue quite near London's exclusive Mayfair district, the Libraries Alliance went all quiet, but now we know: it needs cash.

In a post today, we learn that, 'in the case of public libraries, Library Alliance is being set up to try to improve the quality of the dialogue between local councillors, specifically and local people. It wants to cut through all the various forms and stages of advice that are given by others unless there are genuine reasons why those are needed'. We have to confess ourselves puzzled. The second sentence isn't written in the clearest English, but the thought behind it is even more opaque. Who are all these unnecessary advisors lurking behind hedges, ready to leap out and frighten us?

It continues, 'I am looking for moral and financial support to do this - if anyone reading this has access to means. This project will in the end replace CIPFA and the MLA, and all those bodies and it will replace them with a properly informed dialogue between people who read and local councillors who provide libraries".  Here we find ourselves once more baffled. 'CIPFA and the MLA, and all those bodies'; all what bodies? And a dialogue between people who read and councillors who provide libraries sounds a little limited. How might it go?

People who read: Don't close our library
Councillors: Sorry, no money
People who read: Oh well, in that case, fair enough. Good to have a properly informed dialogue, though

Exeunt omnes

We're charitable types; indeed only this morning we put 2p in the Chamber of Commerce's collection to give the pensioners, bless them, some Christmas cheer. But we're disinclined to put our hands in our pockets for the LIbrary Alliance. Try Mr Cameron; he's quite wealthy, we understand, and may approve of what you're doing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A cautionary tale

It's always wise to check facts. See this exchange in the comments on an excellent Bookseller piece, a round-up of cuts and closures round the country:

People have been critical of our approach. However, if we said something untrue about a public servant who was losing his or her job, we hope we would be gracious enough to apologise and retract.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Who is H. Adenough?

Occasionally there's been some speculation about the identity of the CoatesWatch team. We have nothing to say on the matter except that we are freeborn Englishmen and women. We have to say that H. Adenough is not one of us, though we wish that he or she were. H. Adenough commented thus on a recent Bookseller article about the idea that the MLA might find a home with the Arts Council:

It is about time that Tim Coates admitted that his interests in public libraries are far from independent minded (witness his close relationship with the publishing and retail arms of the book world), and that his claim to speak on behalf of library users rests on the thinnest of ice. His relentless bullying of the library world is based upon a series of ill-judged but eloquent, media-savvy assertions based on a highly selective use of evidence oft-repeated to please his small but enthusiastic claque of supporters. I am sure that he would like to be remembered as a saviour of public libraries; sadly his epitaph is more likely to be of one who (however inadvertently) undermined their strength at a time when it was needed most.

In the comments on the same post, we have spent the evening trying to imagine the tones of voice in which the first sentence of Roy Clare's contribution might be read. The possible variations are many. Readers, record your own version and send it to We will put them up on the blog and may give a small prize, perhaps a Waterstones voucher, for the best.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How many pages make a manual?

We were struck by this tweet about our hero's magnum opus, the Good Library Manual. The female members of CoatesWatch, like many girls, have often been let down by men whose attributes turned out to be less impressive than claimed. Mick Fortune tweeted this quick bibliometric analysis:

Can this be true? It consists of only 38 pages? Perhaps he's saving himself for his A La Recherche, or Dance to the Music of Time or [insert more long books here- ed]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memento Mori

'The librarian is not simply a checkout clerk whose simple task could be done by anyone and need not be paid for'; thus Philip Pullman quoted in this morning's Gaurdian. But what looked like being a good day for library campaigners  has been a little spolied by Tim's latest post on the MLA's Ipsos Mori poll, which he only seems to have read by way of the Bookseller's summary .

Here at Coates Watch we think this poll is rather like the bible: one can find something in it to support more or less anything. Tim reads it as being a vindication of his books-only monoculture. But others, with just as much justification, will be able to read it as support for the breadth of provision of services to many different readers.

We suggest you read it yourself and make up your own minds. It can be found at the snappily named URL

Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's not often you'll hear this from us, but, when it comes to the issue of CIPFA statistics, Tim has a point. Why are the statistics of a publicly-funded service only available on subscription? So much for open data. The fact that this has been the case for many years doesn't excuse it at all.

Could this data, contributed to by every library authority and, indirectly, by library user in the country, be liberated from behind the accountants' paywall? As this goverment seeks to remove more and more services from public control, it seems unlikely. The Guardian recently exposed the huge amounts of public money being creamed off by the private sector, Capita and Ipsos Mori being the leaders in sneaking nice little earners out of public services. We know that US privateers LSSI are sniffing at British library services, and that Civica already have a foothold in public libraries through the SELMS consortium.

The trouble is that Tim has never been explicit in saying that he opposes privatisation. In fact, in many of his dicta, he comes close to arguing that hoary old Thatcherite lie that the private sector would reinvigorate public libraries; just the way it did the railways and the utility companies, we suppose?

A postscript: perhaps we were too hasty. It seems from the comments he makes on his own post that he does have access to the full CIPFA dataset, and that he uses these to support his usual prejudice that public libraries are full of overpaid, underworked drones. Coma and work on an issue desk sometime, Tim.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

London, Gloucester and points west

Interesting times for our hero: the Independent's Boyd Tonkin takes up (or does he, read closely) Tim's idea that Boris should take over London's libraries. Hmmm....if he runs them the way he's run the police (the death of Ian Tomlinson, the manpower cuts, and so on) we're not sure that is a terribly bright idea. Is it better to have our libraries closed by one authority or by thirty-two?

We know, and have seen in our comments, (which we don't edit, censor or leave waiting for approval for days, unlike certain library blogs we could mention), people who seem to think that Tim's on the side of libraries. . Observe the Gloucestershire campaign. Tim parachutes himself in, looking, we suspect, for a consultancy. The campaigners, who seem to have had some disappointing encounters with Tim before, give him the bum's rush.

We wonder what view Tim takes of privatisation? This question, we at CoatesWatch believe, will become the touchstone.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tim's hiring!

If we've been quiet at CoatesWatch, it's because we've been very busy. We were thrilled when we saw that Tim is asking councils to give him a library to run. This is our big chance. He'll be recruiting porters, cleaners, library assistants, reference librarians, music librarians, children's librarians, cataloguers, inter-library loans assistants, electronic resource managers, a systems manager, and someone to pour saucers of milk for that flea-ridden moggie. In the CoatesWatch team we have many of these skills and more besides. Our cvs are up to date and we've all had hair-cuts. When can we start?


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

That Lewisham post

Thanks to the magic of RSS, it's still there, and this is what it said:

The Good Library Blog30/10/2010 10:27Perkins

Tribute and good luck to my friends in Lewisham today. They have organised a carnival to parade between the 5 libraries in the Borough that are threatened with closure. I am sorry I can't be with them, but I wish them sunshine and success. There will be many thousands walking in support of their endeavour.

In July the council announced that in order to make annual savings of the order of £300-£350,000 per annum they needed to close 5 of the 12 libraries in the borough. There is no need to close anything to achieve such a level of savings.

The "Library Budget Book" which is the detailed spreadsheet about how money is spent on a library service was obtained by residents in response to a Freedom of Information request. It is not obviously easy to understand, but detailed analysis of it shows:

The total cost of the library service in Lewisham in 2010- 2011 is planned to be £5,828,316. Of this £5,539,276 will come as funding from the council and it is anticipated that £289,040 will come in the form of fines, fees, charges and other income from library users.

On the face of it therefore to close 5 out of 12 libraries and only save £300-£350,000 requires explanation about how most of the money is spent. It is unlikely that 7 libraries cost £5.5m and 5 libraries cost £300,000. Within the expenditure there appears to be a large fixed cost that exists - irrespective of how many libraries are operating.

Analysis of the detail of the budget book sheet and comparison with similar figures in other councils lead to the following conclusions.

1. The sheet shows just one figure for "District Group general pay", which is £1,167,540. This covers the pay for 2 medium sized and 2 3 small libraries and also the area management costs for them, but it does not show the detail of each. The actual staff cost for the four five libraries is unlikely to exceed £600,000. Councillors need more detail, but the area management/central cost or overhead is likely to be £500k and that is not necessary for the operation of 4 5 libraries

2. Libraries Central Basic Pay, £945,410. This is the staff cost of Lewisham Central library. The library only receives 380,000 visits a year and this cost is far too high. There is certain to be a way to reorganise staff time and rotas that could make substantial savings without reducing any service. 

3. Management Recharge and Directorate Recharge £385,100 and £879,376. This makes a total corporate overhead recharge of 1,264,476 out of a total cost of £5,539,276 which is almost 23%. Three years ago the average overhead recharge for London was 12.5% and this cost is at least double what it ought to be and councillors need an explanation of what these charges comprise.

4. Neighbourhood group general pay £724,190. This covers the pay for 6 small libraries and their area management but does not show the detail of each. The actual staff cost for the libraries is unlikely to exceed £500k, again councillors need more detail, but we know this to be approximately right because of the savings the council that the council have indicated they will make from the savings from their possible closures.

5.Service Development basic pay £275,240. This is another internal overhead cost within the service, most of which is not necessary for the management of 12 libraries. 

6. Bibliographic service £125,190 This is not necessary at all as bibliographic services can now be obtained free from suppliers. 

So in summary one would say that before proposing closures the council should have explored the possibility in detail of making the following savings- and possibly more

A . From items 1 and 4 - £500,000 from area management/non branch costs
B From item 2 £150,000 in reorganisational efficiency in the central library rotas
C From item 3 £600,000 from the combined central overhead recharges
D From item 5 £150,000 from central library staff costs
E From item 6 £100,000 from bibliographic services 

This is a total of £1,500,000, savings from activities which will not affect the front line. line service to the public.

These are actions all to be taken inside the council, before it considers sharing activities with other councils, which, in their turn could produce, quite easily, a further £500,000 

Having identified these savings, the recommended approach would be to use a portion of them to make improvements in stock, library interiors and opening hours, so that the whole programme is an improvement programme, rather than a programme of cuts.

Attempts have been made to draw the attention of councillors, officers, civil servants and all who could sensibly help with this discussion, without success

However it is not hard for anyone to draw just two clear conclusions

1. There is no need to close 5 libraries and that much greater savings are readily available
2. Unless councillors make sure that they are properly informed about the detail of expenditure they are likely to be led into wrong actions over closures.


Another mystery

Did our eyes deceive us? We're sure we saw a post on the Good Library Blog about Lewisham, where campaigners held a large demonstration last week.
Now it's gone, lost, disparu. We wonder why

Friday, October 29, 2010

Peurile [sic] and anonymous

That's us. Strange goings on chez Coates. The first comment here alerts our hero to this blog, though it seems to be an e-mail which the sender wishes to be kept private. No matter. Then Ashe (who is a fine one to condemn anonymity, we think) weighs in to denounce us as puerile. Remember your Latin, Ashe, it's from puer, n. a boy; that may help you spell it.

Are we puerile? Probably, but, as the Irish say, where's the harm? We like to think that to mock pomposity is salutary. No names, no pack-drill.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

A busy day

While most of us have been out enjoying the late October sunshine, our hero has been busy. No Sunday dallying in the autumn leaves for him, oh no, the game is afoot.

Not one, not two but three posts came from his pen today. Read them if you wish. For us here at CoatesWatch the most interesting feature is the addition of a new category to our hero's extensive demonology, the Quackle, which he defines as a Quasi academic librarian [sic; the idiosyncratic use of upper case is as he gives it]

Tim's always had trouble understanding that librarians work in lots and lots of different places, as well as public libraries. Odd, though, that he should harbour this particular hatred for university librarians. We wonder if a sexual partner left him for one in his youth? CoatesWatch is a family publication, so has avoided speculation on our hero's private life, but if any readers can shed any light on this, e-mail

Friday, October 22, 2010

Too, too exciting

CoatesWatch is going to have a lie-down on the chaise longue with the smelling salts, the curtains closed and a wet handkerchief on our forehead. The excitement, my dears. It's too, too faint-making. Our hero has written a book! See here:

The endorsements are curious, though. A quotation from Neil Gaiman appears, as if in support of the book:

Libraries are our future—to close them would be a terrible, terrible mistake—it would be stealing from the future to pay for today, which is what got us into the mess we’re in now.”—Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and other award-winning fantasy and science fiction books, U.K.

In fact Neil made these remarks, quoted in the Daily Telegraph, on receiving CILIP's Carnegie Medal. CoatesWatch wonders if Neil knows that his words are being used by someone who argues that cuts 'should have come a long time ago' or that public libraries should be handed over to publishers.

New Grub Street branch library

We love our hero Tim. No mind but his could have come up with this observation on the controversial diktat from the Publishers Association, which seeks to sabotage public libraries' plans to lend e-books : 'it might not be a bad thing if this were to mean the end of the library world as we know it. A public library service run by publishers might be a lot better than the one we have now. Let's try it.'  Moreover, the man who delivered this crass statement was once his protegé. His heart swells with paternal pride. 'That's my boy', says Tim.

Just as the 1930s Daily Mail proclaimed hurrah for the Blackshirts, so our hero cries hurrah for the PA. CoatesWatch is however a little nervous about the idea of a 'public library service run by publishers'. What might this look like?

  • the librarians will all take three hour drunken lunch breaks on expenses, paid for by the readers
  • the staff on enquiry desks will be recruited solely from the 'girls in pearls' whose pictures appear in Country Life
  • other positions wil be filled by unpaid interns and unpublished (and unpublishable) authors marking time
  • each library will only stock its own publishing house's titles

Readers seeking further detail are referred to George Gissing's New Grub Street (link to Project Gutenburg's free e-text, put that in your pipe and smoke it, Stephen Page), or to the excellent Ed Reardon's Week.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Losing it

Alas, we begin to fear for our hero. Apparently public sector thieves are going to plunder his patrimony.
There's a book coming, and the saviour of public libraries seems to believe that thousands of useless pen pushers will enrich themselves at his expense. We're very excited to hear of the book, and hope for a signed copy.
Read the full horror here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Where's that major announcement?

Forget the Chilean miners, the most exciting news event of the year was to be yesterday's 'major statement on the state of libraries in England and what needs to be done for them to survive and fill a role for future generations' which our hero was supposed to deliver to the Association of Independent Libraries (that's private subscription libraries to you and me) yesterday. CoatesWatch was near Burlington House yesterday, but missed the police cordons and mobs of hacks from the world's media, and Tim's blog remains silent.

We begin to wonder, did the event actually take place? Did it have any existence, except as a delusion in Tim's mind? Not for the first time, we start to fear for our hero's mental health. What will we do if the messiah of England's libraries 'loses it', in demotic parlance, and insists that he is really the heir to the Russian throne, spirited away from the firing squad in 1917?


Update at 9:03, Friday. We've found it, curiously, on SINTO's blog. Those with time on their hands can read the full text. We offer you this nugget, which will give you the flavour: 'So in these times of public spending cuts, what I say is that, in terms of the library service, they should have happened a long time ago'. These are the words, remember, of the greatest library campaigner of the modern era.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oop North

Oh aye, 'appen, our hero finds himself in Yorkshire, commenting on an interesting post on professionalism on the SINTO blog. CoatesWatch thinks he may have met his match. His curious analogy that for libraries to promote reading is like trying to sell petrol to people without cars has been ably demolished by one of the commenters. Watch out, Tim. They don't like southern elitism up there. You may find more of a welcome when you talk to the private libraries tomorrow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


We at Coates Watch wonder if our hero should not seek professional help about his obsession with the MLA. He has now devoted three consecutive posts to critiques of an organisation that, whatever its failings (and Coates Watch knows things about the MLA that would make your hair curl), is on the road to abolition. Is the MLA the main threat to public libraries? Hardly, it's an irrelevance.

Update, 12 October: James Christie, a frequent and, we have to say, intemperate commentator chez Coates has left another of his long and highly emotional screeds. He suggests that 'in the end, we all need to grow up a bit and discard our egos'. Coates Watch fears that if our hero takes this advice and discards his ego, there'll be nothing left.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Coates is starting to make our heads spin with his post-modern tricks. The Good Library Blog is ostensibly written by a cat, Perkins, but it is common knowledge that it is the voice of the world's greatest library campaigner. In his latest post, he adopts the persona of a 'regular (and distinguished) commentator' to praise himself. If this is bewildering for the reader, think what it must be doing to Tim's sanity. Fewer narrative voices, please, as they advise in creative writing classes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fight, fight, fight!

Berkshire Publishing have paid the electricity bill and our hero is back online. And how! He's chosen to pick a fight with Roy 'Hornblower' Clare, who runs the MLA, one of the quangos whose life is moving peacefully to its close.
CoatesWatch is tempted to have a wager on the outcome. The two have clashed before, notably in Swindongate. Can a humble bookseller defeat a rough tough old salt, the scent of rum on his breath and the blood of disobedient ratings on his knuckles? It has to be said, on the showings so far, that the navy has the best of the argument. We shall watch agog.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Technical problems: the technical is political

Our hero is having technical problems. "Apologies to a number of people who have commented in the past few days. For some technical reason although the comments are there and ready, they are not appearing on the blog page. I'm sure this will be corrected as soon as possible".

This comes right above a discussion on privatising libraries in Suffolk in which Perkins (Mr Coates's feline alter-ego) and someone called Andy (Coulson?) wax lyrical about the liberating and lucrative possibilities of privatised libraries: 'Yes. This is really exciting,' comments "Andy", making obeisance before the effigy of Margaret Thatcher in his bedroom.
Interesting, too, that Coates's blog is out-sourced, being run for him by Berkshire Publishing; does this account for the technical problems? Who they, you may ask? It's unclear, except that they have nothing to do with the Royal County, being based in the USA. Have you heard of their Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History? No, neither have we.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eating humble pie

Another example of a rant by our hero which then has to be modified or withdrawn in the face of the facts (remember the mystery of the vanishing "For a Long Time" post...CoatesWatch has a copy is anyone wants it)
As Coates says he'll take this down, we at CoatesWatch feel it should be preserved for posterity. The interwebs never forget!

The Place Survey has been scrapped

Many apologies-- the information on this entry is wrong. I confused the Place survey with the Taking Part survey. Sorry to all at the DCMS and MLA for what I said. I'll leave this for a few days and then remove the entry. and thank you to the person who has pointed this out... I also confess that I believe the Taking Part survey is producing some really useful information and therefore shall make another entry about it. I am pleased it has not been scrapped. Tim

Following Perkins revelations of the dismal results of this year's Place Survey showing that the British Public are being turned off using their libraries, even though they read more and more, to avoid future embarrassment the DCMS has now scrapped the survey.

Perkins can recall all the failed attempts of the DCMS (and the MLA) to achieve anything at all by their actions over more than a decade-- and here is another to join the miserable scrap heap of expensive incompetence.

And they keep telling us that the Libraries Future programme will solve all problems. Why do we laugh at them?

Posted by Perkins at 10:46 AM | Comments (2)

Please check your facts.

1) The Place Survey collected no data from respondents related to libraries.

2) DCMS are not, and have never been, responsible for the Place Survey. Therefore they cannot scrap it.

Posted by: Esmerelda Buckets at September 26, 2010 3:36 AM

Sincere apologies here. Perkins has confused The Place survey with the Taking Part survey. I am sorry.

Posted by: perkins at September 26, 2010 11:03 AM

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No false modesty

I wonder if the Association of Independent Libraries know what they have let themselves in for. Coates Watch was alarmed to see that they've invited TC to address their annual conference on the theme of Libraries in a Digital Age. Not one of TC's strengths, one would have thought, and a curious choice of audience for him, since AIL are all private subscription libraries.
His bio (self-penned?) for the programme eschews understatement:
Tim Coates is an author and was head of Waterstone's bookshops in its early years. For the last decade he has become widely known for his pursuit of the improvement of the public library service. For his address to the conference on libraries in the digital age Tim has indicated his intention to use this opportunity to make a major statement on the state of libraries in England and what needs to be done for them to survive and fill a role for future generations.
A major statement, eh? Coates Watch can't wait.