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