I'll give money to save libraries, ex-Waterstones boss pledges


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The Independent Culture

A British entrepreneur has pledged to support libraries facing the axe with profits from his ebook company, as he criticised the mismanagement of a system that "is not working".

Tim Coates, a former managing director of Waterstones, launched the Bilbary ebook site in America this week as a rival to Amazon and Apple's ebook retail operations. It will go live in Britain next month.

While setting up the company, he has continued to campaign for an overhaul of how libraries are managed. He told The Independent: "Someone needs to show leadership. Libraries in the UK need management. The situation is dreadful and getting worse."

The dire position led Mr Coates to pledge part of Bilbary's UK profits to individual campaigns to save libraries under threat, bypassing the official channels. "Saving these libraries is more important than engaging with the dysfunctional system," he said.

The project is still in its early stages, and it is unclear which libraries will benefit and how much money will become available. "We'll put in as much as we can," Mr Coates said. "We want to make a point. The library system in Britain is not working."

Almost 600 of the 4,000 libraries around the country have been closed or are under threat as councils look to cut costs. A series of campaign groups have sprung up to support them and come up with alternative ways of running individual sites. These include sites in Brent and Lewisham, both in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and the Isle of Wight.

Mr Coates said: "We've seen appalling council management. Some have just washed their hands of the libraries and said the community can keep it running if they want to. We'll work with those campaigning to keep the libraries open."

Councils may run libraries, but the Government can step in to reverse decisions. So far, libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, has refused to get involved. Earlier this month library campaigners and authors including Kate Mosse took their protest to Westminster.

Bilbary is in talks with public libraries in America over using the website to allow the rental of ebooks. Yet Mr Coates said it was impossible to work with libraries in the UK in the same way.

"There's no one person or organisation to speak to. You could talk to 150 councils, but life's too short," he said.

The most recent library statistics from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy found that in the year to last March visitor numbers fell 2.3 per cent to 314.5 million.

Mr Coates added: "The councils say that there's no reason to keep the libraries open because no one is using them. The reason for that is because they're no good. There are solutions to these problems which aren't that hard."