The Ken Coates Collection consists mainly of publications from the Nottingham publisher Spokesman Books written or edited by Ken Coates. Substantive works by this author such as his publications about social deprivation in Nottingham’s St. Ann's area were also made part of the Collection, although these were published by other bodies.
The themes of Coates’ published work are workers’ control and industrial democracy, particularly trade unions in the 20th century.
In 1966, Ken Coates and Richard Silburn working as part of the St. Ann’s Study Group affiliated to the Adult Education Centre, Nottingham conducted a social survey into the living, social and working conditions of the residents of the St. Ann's area of Nottingham. When the authors published their research under the title 'Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen' in 1970 it become a seminal study of social deprivation in Britain. The Collection includes the 1970 study and its two precursors from 1967 and 1968: 'Poverty, deprivation and morale in a Nottingham community: St. Ann’s: a report of the preliminary findings of the St. Ann’s Study Group' (1967) and 'The morale of the poor: a study of poverty on a Nottingham Council Housing estate' (1968).
Ken Coates pursued his interest with labour economics in the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution and the impact of this development on Britain throughout his writing career. Coates’ 1978 study of Nikolai Bukharin and his much later biography of Bukharin titled “Who was this Bukharin” (2010) are included in the Collection. A number of books in the Collection published between 1974 and 2010 deal specifically with the impact of policies from the USSR and China on the international labour movement. In the last two decades of the author's life Labour politics and particularly New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair generated a few new studies, also the European Union’s transformation of labour markets in Europe and beyond. The 1993 title 'A European recovery programme: restoring full employment' edited by Ken Coates and Michael Barratt Brown was followed in 1995 by 'Full employment for Europe: the Commission, the Council and the debate on employment in the European Parliament, 1994-95' by Ken Coates and Stuart Holland.