We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Static libraries

Our beleaguered and decimated acquisitions team are swamped with boxes. It's a bit early for the usual end-of-year panic buy. It turns out that those first signs of spring have been augmented by yet another pile of boxes of booksale; a pile of books from Tench Lane, which is about to be closed for a few weeks to have a new lavatory (I must have missed the announcement that this was European Year of the Lavatory); and a pile of boxes of books that have been bouncing between Catty and Milkbeck for years for no apparent reason.

"Good news!" cries Seth the caretaker, "himself has told us to send these boxes back over to Catty."

The acq. team loosen their stays a little and breathe out. Out of sympathy I lend a hand loading the Big Berha trolley.

"What's these boxes?" I ask.

"Leave them, they're fixtures."

Being dead nosy I have a look in one of them. Italian children's books.

"A present from the twin town visitors. They've been processed but they're not on the catalogue because T.Aldous wants to look at them first."

"When did they visit?"


I look around. "Are all these boxes Italian books?"

"Oh no. Those over there are circulating collections, we're waiting for Mary to decide where they're circulating to. Those six are waiting for the children's librarians to allocate to libraries. That lot on the wall are Richard & Judy collections waiting for someone to decide how we're going to issue them - they aren't sure whether they're normal fiction stock or whether they should be short loans. Oh, and that lot's for Reading Groups. Which Reading Groups, where, and why we're lumbered I don't know and I don't care any more, I retire in eight years and they'll all still be here when I go."

I feel that I have stumbled against an open wound. I come back later and leave behind some chocolate.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Care in the community

"What do you think we should do about that PC in Noddy?" asks T. Aldous.

"Can't we postpone the move until the centre management's died?" I suggest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Big Brother is up your nose

Invited to Noddy Community Centre for a site meeting. The centre management is the usual collection of elderly volunteers that you'd expect to meet on a workday morning. They seem OK on the whole, expect for one latecomer who casts a pall on all the others and spends the meeting lobbing in crabby comments like: "Can't we close the football pitch? That would stop the young lads using the car park," and "who's paying for the carpet in the corridor outside the library?" I think I can guess who doesn't want library users coming into the centre in case they turn out to be paedophiles.

T.Aldous broaches the subject of service level agreements. This is surprisingly sensible of him. And very naughty, as all around the table know the council rule that service level agreements can only be negotiated after the library has moved in and the old library building is sold. (Please could any passing Audit Commission inspectors wondering why Helminthdale's service charges are four times those of comparison authorities forget they read this paragraph).

We pop into the library-to-be, full of workmen and painters. Slap bang in the doorway is a PC sitting precariously on a Homebase pine bracket shelf five feet above the ground.

"What on earth is that?" I ask.

"It's the PC for the CCTV. We've just bought a camera so that we can have security footage of the car park."

"Why's it there?"

"It's the most convenient place."

"Convenient? It's the entrance to a public library. You can't put it there!"

"Why not? What's wrong with it?"

"Well, for a start it looks horrible. For next it's unsafe. And for finals it's insecure."

"Well, we can't move it. It has to be there."

I spend an hour trying to explain the folly of having an unsecured PC perched on a shelf in the entrance to a public library. I make noises about security, health and safety, maintenence and replacement insurance. They think I'm being awkward. Finally, old crabby asks: "Are you going to pay for it to be moved?"

I shrug and give up. I won't pretend to be sympathetic when they come along bleating that somebody's either stolen or broken the processor.

I had the last laugh. Just before I left it dawned on the centre management that the equipment wasn't plugged in.

"No it's not, love," said the sparks, "we're rewiring the room."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas to all our readers

T. Aldous approaches me as I hunt a kettle for my caffeine fix. "I've had a memo from IT. Apparently there's a row because the tender for outsourcing said that the council's got 400 PCs and there's actually 600. They're reviewing the asset register."

Big shock. For the past decade somebody over there's been deleting items from the asset register without doing anything about either telling the people using the equipment or arranging for replacement. Presumably it's to hit some performance target or other. I know I'm not the only person to have reported a problem with a PC only to be told: "that PC was replaced two years ago." And you can never find out who replaced it and what with.

"They've sent a form over. We need to do an audit of all our equipment in all our libraries and complete the form so that they can update the asset register. It needs to be done by January 4th."

It's the season of goodwill so I just smile and walk away.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The man without a cork leg

Over to Sheep City for a chat with Bosko Landscape in Archives about some work on the local history portal. Deep gloom. Sheep City's part of Helminthdale Leisure Trust, an arm's length company set up so that instead of being a constant drain on the corporation's finances it'll be a nice little earner with the capacity to obtain finance from external sources. Reality bites and the cost of emergency repairs to the roof of Dutch Bend Lido and the new signs at Catty Golf Club have bitten hard. Savings must be made. It is proposed that Sheep City closes for an afternoon a week. God alone knows what savings that'll make, but there we go.

Sheep City's manager, Maurice Batchelor, was at an event in the Town Hall this morning when he was approached by Councillor Mountebank, a long-term opponent of the place.

"We'll be closing you down soon, Batchelor," says the councillor.

"How many customers are registered at the leisure centre in your ward?" asked Maurice.


"Two hundred and thirty two. We had eighteen thousand visit us last month."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Crouching tiger, springing limpet

One of our IT guys takes agin the new library management system. Arthur Sixpence sends me this email:

I really don't think that this system is appropriate for use here. Why do they need it to do all these things? We could, and should, have been allowed to write something to do this job.

Can you contact the company and sort this out. Thanks.

I have absolutely no idea what the problem is. Certainly not one that the Library Service or its customers have encountered. Nor do I have any patience with the idea that these guys could write, let alone support, a viable library management system for the later 20th Century. I'm being asked to contact the company who had to wait two years for the system to be installed and paid for to sort out an unspecified problem.

I take the opportunity to put the recent lessons learned into practice and like the dashing gazelle I act.

I do absolutely nothing and get on with the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kicking the ball into the long grass: a masterclass

Having spent hours watching the masters at work lately, together with the usual impulse for an end-of-year review, I suddenly feel enlightened as to the workings of our organisation. I offer this insight as a public service...

Want to do something? Achieve something? Make something happen? Ah well...

"I'm a bit busy at the moment"
This is Reggie Clockwatcher's favourite put-off. It's utter drivel, of course, and he knows that we know that he knows we don't believe him because for Reggie "busy" is not having the time to spend a couple of hours on the 'phone negotiating an inflated deal for business directories we don't need. It doesn't stop anything happening but you know Reggie won't get himself involved.

But you knew he wouldn't anyway.

"It'll be done next week"
This is our friends in IT. The cheque's in the mail. Have your girl talk to my girl. It doesn't taste of anything. Conkers.

"What do other libraries do?"
The instruction is to ring around and ask if anyone else is doing what you suggest, with the implication being that if it's a novelty it's not on. What the uninitiated don't realise is that if anyone else is doing it it still might not be on. No decision has been made one way or another, it's a stall.

This is Mary's favourite mode of prevarication. It's pretty much nursery slope stuff in the scheme of things but it can be profoundly irritating when effectively deployed.

"We need to discuss this"
This is a low-level T. Aldous stall. He has no intention of ever discussing it, whatever it is. This leads on to...

"We need to have a meeting about this"
He has no intention of having a meeting, either. This can go on for months. Unless you're really unlucky and it becomes...

"I think we need to review this now that ..."
Now you're screwed and may as well pack up and go home. The van driver's post has been vacant for six years because T. Aldous wants to review the delivery route.

Cheese & onion

We've had the pie lunch and for the life of me I don't know how many cheese and onion pies we had in the end.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Poetry corner

Xmas lunch at Dutch Bend. I popped in towards the end just to let on and say hello to everyone, including a few retirees. Just in time to catch the cabaret: Nancy Screech strolls in dolled up as T. Aldous Huxtable, complete with ginger fright wig and a furry caterpillar on a stick acting as the trademark eyebrows. "He" proceeded to recite a poem. I won't weary you with all twelve verses, but one in particular stood out:

"Sometimes things go very wrong;
Things often go that way.
But you know that I'm not to blame
I was on leave that day."

Friday, December 16, 2005

A la recherche de posts perdu

I'm technically on leave for most of this week. Except that I'm running system back-ups on a laptop on my bedroom floor because there's no one to do it in my absence. Except that there is: Jimmy Huddersfield's replacement. Except that Jimmy's been retired for months and his replacement's no nearer being appointed.

Reason? "Now that Jimmy's retired we can review his post. There are a few other functions that might be taken over by whoever's doing that job."

They couldn't possibly have reviewed his post during the year's notice he gave them of his retirement.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The ultimate non-communication strategy

A colleague shares this, in the hopes that his organisation may compete managerially with Helminthdale...

"Just as we were leaving for lunch a police van came roaring down the street and into the side street by the library, closely followed by a Paramedic Ambulance. Apparently their destination was the library.

"The paramedics turned up at the Reference desk saying 'Where's the guy having the heart attack?' and no-one knew what they were talking about - they hadn't called an ambulance, so they rang Betty (Bob's PA) to find out - and Bob himself answered the phone: 'What are they doing there? I told them to come to the back door - they're for me.'

"Bloody marvellous - they obviously went to the back door and couldn't get in so they came round the front - and no-one knew. Could he tell anyone? Nah.

"As yet we still don't know what's the matter with Bob but it'd be all the same if the stupid old sod had died in the back room. There's more...

"Apparently Betty went with him to the hospital (so why didn't she tell the front desk anything or open the f***ing back door? oh well) so all the phone calls for Bob and Betty were coming through to Lending. Susan asked Cynthia (head of Reference) what was happening about Bob's calls because staff were saying 'He's just gone off with some paramedics.'

"Cynthia told Susan: 'you'll have to put them through to Betty' and Susan replied: 'didn't you just tell me Betty had gone to the hospital with Bob?' 'Oh, yes.'

"About 2 hours later we've just had an email from Betty saying Bob's in hospital.


There's a happy ending...

"In the end, he was off for a few days but it transpires it wasn't a heart attack. When they took him in they said he had very low blood pressure. They have no idea what caused it. No more has been said since."

Monday, December 12, 2005


T. Aldous has just spent two hours trying to convince me that the BBC's Read & Write initiative is a major problem that we couldn't work with. At one point I heard me tell him that if we weren't in the business of promoting literacy and weren't prepared to try and help customers find reading material that met their needs then we had no business calling ourselves public libraries.

He came back into my office a few times with "proof" of the BBC's perfidy: "look, they sent this email at eight o'clock!" (eh?)

In the end even he realised he'd gone too far and kept out of my way when Mary suggested it might be prudent. I'd told her that I would kill Huxtable if he came within three yards of me.

Well worth it

I've spent my weekend working on IEG5 stats and BVPI157. Important e-government stats that determine how much money the council gets and in which the Library Service's senior management show no interest whatsoever, no matter how much I mither them.


Friday, December 09, 2005

The veriest bliss

T. Aldous takes a few of us to one side to brief us on the council's new job evaluation programme. Very useful:

"I really don't know anything about it but we must all do it and it's important because it could affect your pensions."

Still none the wiser.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Raw nerves

T. Aldous has just belatedly woken up to the BBC's RaW campaign to encourage reading and writing. The BBC wants to work with public libraries to further this cause and they're providing lots of publicity materials, etc. for it. Unlike some other BBC campaigns there aren't any strings and lots and lots of positives. Here's how he brings it to the staff meeting:

"This is a pain but I guess we have to do it, we can't avoid it. The BBC have sent out lots of these packs. They promised us stickers but they've not arrived yet. It's just typical isn't it? The stickers were supposed to have arrived last week."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The latest in the cheese & onion stakes

Two weeks to go and three portions still to be claimed. A nation trembles in anticipation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Olympian table tennis

The first of a brace of meetings with Arthur Sixpence, one of our friends in IT. As expected, it's bad-tempered and functionally useless to anyone wanting to actually get something (anything!) done but a fascinating terpsichore for the disinterested observer. People who know me are amazed when I claim that I don't contribute to the bad temper of these meetings. This isn't because I'm not very, very annoyed. It is because I'm very, very annoyed with both parties to the arguments -- I think they're both feckless, useless lumps -- and to get involved in the rows is to have one or other claiming me as their champion and expecting me to get them out of the latest fix they've got themselves into. Ah, no, learnt that lesson early on. This meeting revolved around a project for automating the various notices we send to borrowers, including telephone and text contact. We were told rather late in the day that we had the funding for it and that we had four months in which to have it all done and dusted and paid for. Two obstacles: we'll be relying on the guy in IT who's been "ordering that software next week" for another project for 25 months; and there's no way I can this project on my own. I've told T. Aldous that I need help with it. T. Aldous responded by running out of my office and refusing the discuss the matter further. These are the people having the meeting.

It really is impressive, truly. Forcing myself to take a step back and not get involved, lest I kill one or both, I suddenly realised just how good these guys are at what they do. What they do is their utmost to avoid being held accountable for anything. Anything that happens is a result of somebody else deciding on a course of action and imposing their will upon the blameless waif. Watching one or other on their own is infuriating. Watching the two in mortal combat is fascinating, like watching two chess grandmasters at the peak of their powers with games lost or won by sequences of apparently minor nuances. Or two ghosts trying to nail blancmanges into each other's backs.

Forty-five minutes later, the meeting adjourns with honours equal and each convinced that the ensuing stalemate is a resounding personal victory.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chimps off the old block


I'm asked to a meeting with T. Aldous and Arthur Sixpence to discuss getting IT into the "new" library at Noddy. Arthur brings along Bill Nedlow, who's appalled to hear how far things have got with the building without notifying IT. "It'll take BT at least six months to get a line out to the new place," he warns. We had hoped that whoever was doing the project management in Property Services had mentioned that they were doing this. I don't mention that I happen to know that Bill knows all about it because he signed the petition against moving Noddy Library back in August.

Arthur takes the opportunity to ask about the project I'm worrying about.

"Have you decided what you're doing about this project? Can we write it off and put the money in as a saving?"

"What are we doing about this Kevin?"

"You and the others are discussing it to see whether or not the library service can deliver on this project."

"We'll have to get back to you on this Arthur, we're trying to find out whether or not we can deliver on this project."

And so it goes. Like ping pong, Arthur desperate to kill the project and save the money, so long as he can say that the Library Service killed it; T. Aldous desperate not to commit himself to any course of action and desperate to blame IT for non-delivery; both desperate for me to say anything that gets them off the hook; me saying nowt, just in case. As appropriate a finale to the year's achievements as I can think of.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sprint finish

T. Aldous swears that he's not been told anything about the successful IT bid. It's remarkable how many such things he's not told about. Perhaps because of things like this...

There's one project I can't do by March on my own. Absolutely not a chance. This makes me physically sick as I've been trying to get funding for it for five years. It's important for e-government. It's important for our meeting standards that determine how much money the council gets from the government. Much, much more importantly, it improves the service we're providing to our customers by leaps and bounds. I am depressed and heartsick. Still, nil desperandum, there may be some way to retrieve the situation. With a bit of will and ingenuity we may be able to pull together and make things happen. I try to talk to management team. Who don't want to talk to me about it.

The closest I get is when T. Aldous comes in to witter about a letter he has to write ("is 'e-government' hyphenated?") I tell him that we need to discuss what we're doing about this project as a matter of urgency. I stress the importance. I stress that I can't do it on my own. I stress that I need the help of management team. The 'phone rings. In the time it takes me to turn, pick up the receiver and turn back, the bugger has escaped.

While it's quite sweet that a man of his age has such a turn of speed, it's dispiriting to know that the one time I ask for help he runs out of my office.

Opportunity kicks the door in

'Phone call from Arthur Sixpence, our IT liaison bod. The guy who's been "just about to order" a key piece of software for us for the past twenty five months. Apparently, the bid for funding I submitted in September 2004 for a bunch of projects were approved in March and why haven't I done anything about them? First I know about it, that's why. It's urgent that things get in train as if the money's not spent by March it's lost.

One of the projects involves the software he should have ordered two years ago.

"Can you get that ordered a.s.a.p. Arthur?"

"I'll send you an email about it next week."

Just like my socks, they are neglected

Interesting gossip about Harry Presto's leaving do. Apparently, he wanted to invite any and all library staff who could get away for a bit that afternoon, so he asked T. Aldous for a list of all staff. And asked. And asked.

Surprisingly enough, T. Aldous himself managed to get to the do and had a nice time.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Looking after pennies

It's axiomatic that the further up the greasy pole one goes the more careful one gets with one's money. Case in point: each week staff put 30p into the tea money kitty to pay for milk. Library Assistants do this without demur, depsite knowing full well that the likelihood of their getting through the week without being shipped out to provide emergency cover somewhere or another is vanishingly slight. One senior manager puts in 20p because she's stopped having tea at lunchtime. Another has taken to putting in 27p because she doesn't get a Monday evening cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yuletide cheer

Every other Tuesday, the Mobile Library's last stop is outside O'Grady's fish and chip shop, so they pop in and get their dinners and bring them back with them. Being nice lads, they've taken orders from other staff at Helminthdale and we've had a regular lunchtime social gathering of it.

This has been noticed by management. Mary Dunroamin has changed the Mobile Library schedule. The stop outside the chip shop is now served at 2.00pm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I have always thought in the back of my mind...

Good news: we've decided that we'll have a pie and pies lunch for Chrimbo Eve at Helminthdale. The housebound van will pick up the order from O'Grady's fish'n'chip shop and merriment will ensue on their arrival. Not necessarily festive but it's very informal and an opportunity for staff to socialise a bit during the working day.

Bad news: Mary Dunroamin has complicated matters fearfully. You see, we put our names down, saying whether we wanted meat and potato or cheese and onion pie. There's eight portions to a pie and Mary makes the ninth for cheese and onion. Instead of waiting to see how many more people sign up for cheese and onion, she sets on a recruitment drive. The library van is taking portions out to branch libraries; a couple of assistants are taking pie home for their partners; recently retired staff are only allowed to join in if they're having cheese and onion pie. At this rate there'll be seventeen for cheese and onion and she'll be spending all day tomorrow recruiting takers for pie number three.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The reason why paradise lost

Also from Milkbeck staff meeting: a couple of members of staff have recently lost relatives... oh, I couldn't tell you...

Despair held by water

More from Milkbeck: one of the temporary staff has been unsuccessful in getting a permanent job in the library. T. Aldous invited the rest of the staff to commiserate with her. Needless to say, the poor girl was mortified.

He sang a salty song about a girl from Bangalore

Mr. Strategic took his "I've got a niggle" roadshow to Milkbeck Library's staff meeting today. Mistaking a combination of dumb insolence and downright contempt for mute incomprehension the idiot elaborates... "The first thing you learn at library school is how to fold a cardboard box so that you don't have to tape up the bottom."

The lesson does him no favours. It confirms many people's long-standing prejudices about "The Professionals." More to a point, four of the five librarians' posts are vacant and the library is down to half a librarian (if you're very interested in knowing what happened to the other half of a post the Human Resources department would like to meet you in a dark alley). Staff gather in corners like school Shakespeare, muttering: "I'll give him bloody niggle."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A drowsy numbness pains my senses

Have a letter in front of me complaining because the Kirklees web site has been down recently. For once I can justifiably, without contradiction claim this has nothing what so ever to do with me. Apparently though it has as the letter is from someone who tried to access it from one of our People's Network PCs. Obviously my fault.

Mind you, last week I was asked to download a "website" onto a CD-ROM. The conversation quickly got rather terse and apparently I am uncooperative! Besides the technical difficulties of downlaoding a website, a whole website, my PC doesn't even have a CDROM drive, let alone writer! "Mine does" replied requestee, "but I don't know how to use it." I kindly offered to swap PCs to better match user capability, but that was turned down, but we really fell out when I asked if she had a CD to write to, "No I thought you'd have one." Worse still I was required to perform this miracle "Now".

Friday, November 25, 2005

Shake, rattle and roll

T. Aldous is fixating on the kettle in the staff room. He has noticed that there are occassional flakes of material from the element. He is addressing this by hacking any loose stuff off the element with a knife and giving it a damned good scrub with a manky old washing-up mob.

We're all noticing that the coffee's a bit crunchy today.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Like two rubber ducks that pass each other in the bath


I tried to hint to Mr. Strategic that it wouldn't be a good idea to have anything in the Helminthdale's staff meeting tomorrow headed "T. Aldous' niggles" (= too much brown tape on boxes), especially in a week where the library was run by a branch assistant plus one temp and someone who started with us last Tuesday. "I used it at Catty and Dutch Bend and I've got to give the same message to everyone."

So there you have it: if you do something stupid it's OK to do it repeatedly so long as you're consistent about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

There is nothing better in life than writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro

Word from Dutch Bend: at the end of their staff meeting, the usual monologue, T. Aldous comes up with "T. Aldous' niggles." This turns out to be: "you're putting too much brown tape on the boxes you're sending into Helminthdale for the book sale." My how they laughed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Laughing their hods off

The caretakers are in tumult. They spent all morning tooling round libraries picking up boxes of books that hadn't sold locally in sales. They've just shifted ninety-two boxes of books and sundry trestle tables into the side room for Helminthdale's big booksale. Now T. Aldous tells them that the room's got to be cleared on Friday morning for a meeting. And then three hours later the books and trestle tables have to be replaced. The air is ripe with Anglo-Saxon invective.

Lie down and be counted

The inspectors expressed concerns that only one person (myself) knows how any of our systems work. "What would happen if he fell under a bus or decided that he didn't want to co-operate with library management?" Damn. I hadn't realised that my game plan was so transparent: "half a million pounds in my numbered Swiss bank account or you don't get the statistics for your public library impact measures."

T. Aldous sprang into action. I now have an appointed deputy who needs to be trained up. It's the Stock Procurement Manager. The job's been vacant since Jimmy Huddersfield retired months ago. And the job description's being looked at because T. Aldous and Mary think that this could be combined with the stock management librarian's post and/or the reader development post, both of which have been vacant over a year.

Monday, November 21, 2005

You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead

Apparently, T. Aldous told the inspectors at some length that he really wanted to work strategically.

Mr. Strategic has just spent two hours unpacking encyclopedias, putting them onto trolleys and putting them in display in Helminthdale's big booksale.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Talk to the wall because the email's not listening

Me: "I've sent you a few emails about e-government decisions I need from you."

Mary Dunroamin: "Oh, they'll be in my 'unread emails' folder."

Is there anywhere lower than the bargain basement?

The first glimmer of actions from the Action Team: T. Aldous is going to have a grand book sale at Helminthdale Library. So the thirty-two boxes of books that were packed up unsold on Monday will be unpacked and augmented by twelve boxes of books that haven't been sold at Catty in the past six weeks and an unspecified number of books from Dutch Bend.

T. Aldous — who is busy, busy, busy — has spent all morning sifting through the boxes to make sure that they're correctly priced up. As they're all the same price I can't fathom why he's bothering.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blind man's buffing-up

The Post-Inspection Action Team has taken over the meeting room at Helminthdale. To prevent any leaks, the room is locked and barred to all comers. As they've been eating in the room, the caretaker insisted on cleaning the room this evening. In the end he had to promise to hoover the room with his eyes closed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A bungee jumper at the end of his tether

I get a strident email from the corporate web resources manager telling me that he sees no reason why the library catalogue should include web-based resources as "library catalogues only list the books held in the library."

I refrain from telling him to go boil his head. What is profoundly depressing is that this guy feels empowered to dictate to council services what information they do or don't provide to their customers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Upon finding the office banjo

T. Aldous refuses to discuss anything with anyone with a view to forcing a decision to be made, which is hard luck for those of us with e-government dumped on us. "Everybody is bringing me December deadlines," he wails. What he doesn't say is that the clock started ticking at different times, in some cases four or five years ago. Gah.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The dawning light

Jim Lettuce again, about Impact Measures...

Jim: "We could meet all of these couldn't we?"

Me: "Oh yes."

Jim: "I don't understand how we're not then."

Me: "Ask me your next question."

Jim: "How often does management group meet?"

I smile. "Oh, I see," says Jim.


I happened to notice on Saturday that a certain branch had set more than fifty percent of their PN PCs to broken and adopted the rather interesting method of getting them fixed by not telling anyone. I asked what was matter with them to be told they didn't know. I called in the branch, found nothing wrong with the PCs reset them to working, only to discover this morning they were set to broken again. I rang to ask why.

"Well they were broken on Saturday so we thought they must be broken today as well because you weren't here long enough to fix anything."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Why I don't like having annual leave any more

For every day's leave I take there are two or three days' worth of hassle and aggrevation caused by things happening while I'm off that I don't get to know about until they cause a problem.

I found out last night that the PC on the Ref. desk has been moved onto the public side of the People's Network to test an idea about the cause of problems we're having. Consequently, the log-ins we usually use aren't operable and there's no access to email or the catalogue. The chap who did it told the librarian, who promised faithfully to pass the word. Anyway, one of the other Masters of Reality were on last night, hadn't been told, rebooted the PC (don't ask), couldn't get in. I was equally puzzled. Luckily, even though it was after hours the PC guru sorted it for us.

This morning, self same Master of Reality (PO grade) couldn't log on. Locked the password. Told customers "there's a major problem on the computers", rang me (in that order). I went up, got it unlocked. They then couldn't open the booking system to let people onto the PN terminals. Told customers "there's a major problem on the computers", rang me. I went up, opened the booking system. To my dismay, none of the clients were showing up on the screen. While MoR is telling customers "there's a major problem on the computers", I go over and have a look. All switched off. Because "there's a major problem on the computers". I run around logging them all on, as MoR is too busy telling customers "there's a major problem on the computers", despite me saying "there isn't, you just need to log them on". MoR having made the transition from "there's a major problem on the computers" to "sorry, you can't use them because we've had a major problem on the computers", Systems Librarian gives up.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Here we go again

Take a day off, return and find our Reference Staff had e-mailed me with URGENT in the subject line. The text was simply the following line:

T5 problem with keyboard. Pressing R producing M etc

Some prat in full view of the whole Reference Library had gone to the trouble of removing all but three of the alpha keys on the keyboard and repositioning them randomly. Ref staff hadn't noticed the keyboard arrangement looked somewhat unusual.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What bliss it is to be alive

My working life is complete: I've just repaired the rabbit's tail on a board book by cutting a cotton wool ball in half and supergluing it to the cover.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It must be take the piss out of the Systems Librarian Day

Have just this minute been asked by our Children's Unit if they can have a new printer.

"Why, what's wrong with the one you have got?"

"It's jammed."

Not quite there yet

One of the staff who pretends to work in the Children's Library watched kids accessing porn sites on the People's Network last Saturday, did bugger all as "they seemed to be having fun", and now demands I ban them.

One of our Reference staff on the same Saturday watched a teenager bugger up a CDROM drive. She said she didn't know how he had done to it, but thought there was a library card inside the drive. Sure enough I have just fished a library card out of offending CDROM drive which was preventing the drawer from closing.

Finally, in response to an email that "the mouse on PC 5 is not working..."

"Have they stolen the mouse-ball or is the breakage something more fundamental than that?"

"No, that's the first thing I check! The up-down movement works on the bar inside, but not with the ball in it; I tried to 'roughen up' the ball, without success."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ten green bottles

Jowatt Javelin retires today. With his retirement I now move out of the youngest quartile of staff in the service. I'm 45.


Happy event here, the Housebound Assistant's pet glove, which has been broody for a couple of weeks, made a nest on her desk last week and has now had a litter of two lovely little pink mittens.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Closed sesame

There was a wholly unnecessary panic at Dutch Bend on Saturday: Minnie Clutterbuck couldn't log the PCs on because the password changed last week and nobody left her a note to say what it was. I asked the librarian why there wasn't a note for Minnie.

"I was going to tell Irene to leave a note for Minnie, but she was going to the dentist and I thought she might forget."

Stock management (again!)

A phone call from a branch asking if the system could tell them which books they had taken the date labels out of in preparation for withdrawal, as they had put the date labels in a plastic bag which the cleaner had assumed was rubbish, therefore they don't know which books they intended to withdraw.

"Find the books," I helpfully suggested.

"Can't do that. We sent them to book sale".

Great God this is an awful place

Popped up to Ref. with a new mousemat to solve the major problem. Turns out that there was an unreported problem...

An out of order notice on a PC because the chair in front of it was broken.

A strain on the maintenance budget

Reggie Clockwatcher rings down with a major problem.

A customer's broken a mousemat.

Quote of the month

Jim Lettuce pops over to ask me about Impact Measures. How did you cop for this chore? I asked.

"My boss said to me: 'Go and find out what's happening in libraries. I'd ask T. Aldous myself but I've not brought my sleeping bag.'"

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Big pictures

Management group have been in deep conclave.

To my knowledge there are at least a dozen reasons why this must be the month when this service finally falls off the cliff. One involves the fact that half the procurement staff who order and process incoming stock have retired and not replaced, just in time for the last-minute panic-buying caused by the fact that a huge (big, very, very, big), and very politically sensitive (ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch!), pot of money for new stock hasn't been spent and needs to be by the end of the month for the cabinet report. The report has to be impressive to avoid Son Of Big Kicking. At the same time the team loses our finance clerk, who'd be processing all the invoices and creditors and getting all the required stats for to avoid SOBK. At the same time, the library assistant career grade kicks in after a fifteen-year gestation, except for procurement staff who are pending review, delayed by our implementing automated ordering (1999), the retirement of van driver (2000), the first Best Value review (2002) and sundry other factors, as T. Aldous "has ideas about restructuring how the team works", which will come into effect before replacing the retirees.

Lending is in foment due to the number of vacancies and Julie Keemun's imminent departure, leaving us with no lending librarian at Helminthdale.

Ref. is Ref. With Reggie Clockwatcher playing his class act.

e-government; e-learning; Impact Measures; CPA; inspections; reviews; Framework for the Future; Gershon; and who knows what lurk in the wings like so many pantomime demons.

This morning the big idea was unveiled.

"We'll be able to stop having separate milk and teabags for Ref and Lending."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Managing the hairy palmed

I'm being constantly asked what happens about customers who come in and look at porn sites. I address this by starting with an elementary, and rather bowdlerised, account of the engorgement of erectile tissues with blood caused by visual stimuli enacting hormonal release centres in the brain but it turns out that they want to know whether or not we can bar people. I explain, again, that that's a management issue and they should ask their managers about how the acceptable use policy is to be enacted. As their managers can't tell the difference between an acceptable use policy and a terms and conditions agreement and told me to rewrite the former (written one Sunday afternoon) as it couldn't fit on a one-page A4 terms & conditions sheet in 24 point text I don't think they're on a winner somehow.

Knowing your place in the scheme of things

I've been trying to have a meeting with management group about e-government. Actually, I've been trying for the best part of two years, but it's getting a bit urgent now. No can do, too busy.

I have just watched the whole of management group getting themselves involved in this morning's story time at Noddy Library. The branch librarian's off sick so somebody needs to cover, except that nobody's available. But of course we can't say that storytime's cancelled because of staff sickness, oh no. So management group dropped everything and set to shuffling everybody around so that Cicely Gnasher can go out to do the story time. Which she does.

No bugger turned up for it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

You don't have a dog and shit on the carpet yourself

Up to my neck in e-government stuff; smartcard project fraying at the edges; the last of the libraries to go live with our LMS just coming up to the boil; a huge fight with our friends in the IT department; and T. Aldous mithering about the floorplans for five relocated libraries. Just at the point at which I want to sit in a corner screaming, I get a call from Reggie Clockwatcher...

Can I please come to the reference library to see whether two Asian youths are looking at porn on the People's Network as another customer has complained.

I wonder why Reggie doesn't go over, have a look at what they're doing and, if they're up to mischief, kick them off the PCs. Then I go home.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bulldogs swallowing wasps

The head of Community Services, Harry Presto, retires tomorrow. He's been having a few lunches to say cheerio to the people he's worked with over the years. Today it was the turn of the half-dozen people he's been working with in the library service, which is very generous of him.

Frog made the mistake of mentioning this in the children's meeting and it got back to Umpty Library who immediately got a huge collective cob on because they hadn't been invited.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"It's gone down really badly that only senior managers got invited."

"He invited the people he works with."

"Well, none of us know him here, but some of the lower paid staff should have been invited."

"So your beef is that someone you don't know didn't buy you lunch?"

Any time this service weans itself out of the school playground can't be too soon for me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Embracing the future

As part of the Consulting Our Children programme, Frog Dropwort's been to a few meetings of the Children's Forum at Senebene Library. As a result, he's come up with the idea of arranging a visit to the library supplier by some kids from the Forum to choose a couple of dozen books for a travelling collection. It would be an easy "consultation tick" for the library service and it would be useful to see how different, or not, the kids' choices would be to the Children's Librarians'. The Children's Librarians meet every week and spend a few hours doing book selection from approvals, so Frog took the opportunity to mention this idea to them. Nancy Flannel, from Catty Library, was most disapproving: "I'm a professional and I don't get to visit the supplier to choose books!" As it takes her all morning to select a couple of dozen books from the approvals I can't imagine she'd be able to cope with a storefull to choose from.


We don't have many librarians below the age of fifty and the youngest of them, Julie Keemun, is leaving us for another authority. She thought it might be a nice idea to go out for a farewell lunch with a few of her closer working colleagues and approached Mary Dunroamin with an invitation. "Oh no," said Mary, "I've been to Vivaldi's three times already this month!"

Setting an example

T. Aldous has been throwing his weight around at Umpty Library, complaining to the staff meeting that the issue figures are dropping like a stone (why just pick on them?) and that Something Must Be Done. In their shoes I would have suggested that the Chief Librarian might want to renew his loans, which have been overdue since the beginning of September.

Monday, October 31, 2005


T. Aldous collared me and Mary Dunroamin for an impromptu meeting about the layouts and designs of Noddy and Umpty libraries. He laid out the plans on the table in front of us; went out and made copies of the plans; went back to his office for to print some emails about the libraries to prove that he was on top of the game; told us seven times how urgent this was (which is what he was telling us six weeks ago when he was saying that we must have a meeting to discuss the plans); explained why Shagger Noakes was making things difficult by having meetings and not telling him anything; realised that these were old copies of the plans and went and got the latest ones, which he copied, drew on and photocopied the drawings; told us it was urgent that we decide on the general layout so that he could get the designers in to sort out the furniture and shelving and then said he'd leave us to it because he had to go and get his hair cut.

Friday, October 28, 2005


The management of Noddy Community Centre have come up with a novel solution to the problem of the local community coming in to use the library, which moves in next month. The latest plans for the library include a small vestibule between the entrance to the centre and the door to the library. Centre staff will man a desk in the vestibule to keep an eye on our customers and make sure they don't get up to any mischief. I can't help thinking that we should be looking at the rent they'll be charging us and deducting sums for nonsense like this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Roses grow on you

Another complication at Umpty: the library has no disabled person's access despite the requirements of the DDA. All hell breaks loose, quite rightly. It turns out that the problem lies with the local Township Committee, who vetoed the plans to provide ramps and a lift to the library on the grounds that this would mean building over a rose bed in the Umpty Park Conservation Area. As the rose bed is as derelict as the park it sits in it surprises nobody to find that there aren't any roses actually in it.

Still, the disabled would-be users of the library, lying thwarted in their beds of a night-time will sleep the easier knowing that should a rose ever be required to be planted in Umpty Park it shall have a home to go to.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Light reading

Building work at the new library at Umpty has been completed and we're now looking at moving the library lock, stock and barrel into its new home a.s.a.p. or considerably sooner. Needless to say, the planning has been meticulous, helped by the support and attention to detail one expects from the councillors of Helminthdale. Only last week, one of them queried the (very cheap, ask no questions) quote for the removals in the local rag:

"Why are we spending this sort of money on moving a few library books from one site to another? I expect a troop of boy scouts could do the job for a few quid if we provided them with shopping trolleys."


There is one slight complication: the lending library is on the first floor of the new building and it turns out that the floor isn't as strong as one might hope. In fact, it has a load bearing of fifteen Newtons, which is to say 15kgpm², the gravitational force you would expect if you laid a dozen Bramley apples on a floor tile, or, in layman's parlance: you're welcome to walk around the library but don't have any ideas about lying down for any length of time. Luckily, 15,000 books on bookshelves weigh next to nothing at all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


The People's Network's been down today. Calloo, calloo, callay! For the first time in many weeks I haven't been reporting a dozen faults a day to the IT Helpdesk. Staff have taken the opportunity to get a breather and re-establish friendly relations with their customers.

The background's a bit interesting. Officially it's down because of problems with the filtering system and corporate concerns that unfiltered internet = all hell breaking loose. Unofficially, it has emerged that three weeks ago the ISP, who administers our filter as part of the contract, notified T. Aldous that there would be changes to the filtering system today and that there needed to be a few tweaks on the pipe at this end in order to take up the new changes. T. Aldous forwarded this email to the corporate networking group last night at half-eight. Bless.

Monday, October 24, 2005


More fun at Pottersbury Road. We've finally got the place onto the library management system and the head's kicking up a fuss because I won't let her staff log onto it, set themselves up as borrowers and issue books to themselves. In the end I have to invoke the Data Protection Act and point out that it's no more appropriate for us to give them unsupervised access to our borrower database than it is for us to have access to their student records. Things were tricky until I had a brainwave and suggested that we could download their student records periodically so as to be able to verify the addresses and telephone numbers of their children. This immediately put the wind up her and she spent a good twenty minutes explaining why this was a monstrous proposition. In which time she totally forgot any idea of her staff having access to our system. Thank God! What I say is that if the school doesn't trust the teachers to write letters to parents why should I let them anywhere near my nice library management system?

Friday, October 21, 2005


Shagger Noakes twice in one week? Does the world not hold terrors enough as it is? This morning our favourite trickle down the leg of fate is acting as squire to Ardley Corduroy as he presents the Best Value Action Plan to the troops in the trenches. Not a single one of those four little words can be objectively applied to what one wit has already dubbed "the twelve PowerPoint slides of the Apocalypse." There's all the usual guff about community focus, which is Helminthdalespeak for "when we duck out of difficult decisions we'll blame the community." And customer values, which turns out to be code for doing everything short of providing a service to the poor buggers. There's a vision sub-plan which "umbrellas the service strategies into one unifying direction." "We'll be doing more outreach work to reach out to people who don't come to the library." And no end of "consulting with the community about high value business activities."

In the end I could stand no more:

"There are a lot of pretty major systemic changes proposed here. Change of that nature is going to need people available to manage that change if it isn't to degenerate into a complete shambles. You've already established that we're under strength with managers as it is. Who's going to be doing it all?"

"Don't you worry," said Ardley, "there'll be people who'll be doing the job."

Actions speak louder than words. The Community Outreach Librarian's post has been vacant since Nettie Rosencrantz ran off to live in Wales. This afternoon we find out that the post's been deleted to help pay for the staff overspend in Sheep City.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Order from chaos in plain sight

For many years I've been trying to fathom out the reference library's shelving scheme and failing miserably. The books are given Dewey numbers but aren't shelved in Dewey order. Each is given a numbered sticker. If you consult the library catalogue you'll get the Dewey number but not the number on the sticker. To get that, you have to know the title of the book you want and then go over to a card index on the window ledge (I kid you not) to find the number. Thank God! they are shelved in numerical order.

But what order is it? It isn't anything obvious like author or subject matter. Nor date of publication as the 2005 Writer's Yearbook sits next to a health service directory published in 1997. Publisher? No. A few of us got talking about this recently and picked holes in our respective theories. In the end we had to ask Reggie Clockwatcher as it was driving us barmy and putting Frog off his crosswords. I felt like Doctor Watson being deflated as Sherlock Holmes explained the trick. So very, very obvious.

The books are shelved in order of height.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We've a little tiny crocodile that sings like Bing

A visitation from from our beloved Head of Culture and Library Services, Shagger Noakes. What joy. The man is a blustering gobshite and a know-nothing bully. One of the inspection teams (I forget which one) asked what was the point of having an intermediary between T. Aldous, the Chief Librarian, and Ardley Corduroy, our Director of Services. Legend has it that an inspector asked the about-to-retire Senior Curator of Museums: "What is the point of the Head of Culture and Library Services?" To which Arthur Champions replied: "Oh, you've met him then?"

Shagger was laying down the law about the need for our supporting and promoting the new Centre for Local Culture and Natural History Studies. The need being that he's spent all the capital for the next eight years on the damned thing and councillors are getting twitchy. Our staffing budget's been frozen to pay for the publicity and marketing team for the centre, which hasn't gone down well. It isn't as if they need to market the centre: the place virtually sells itself. The Natural History Galleries include one of England's largest collections of stuffed sheep (I'll let you make up your own jokes) and there is a huge interactive exhibit celebrating the life of local music-hall star Edie Grimsdale. By all accounts, Edie Grimsdale wasn't the sort of person you'd go out of your way to interact with, but you try your best with the materials to hand.

He spoke for forty minutes without interruption and when he'd gone we all compared notes: none of us have the first idea what he was actually telling us. Never has so much verbiage gone into so little communication.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

God gives nuts to them as have no teeth

One of the things that always gets my goat about library management group in general and T. Aldous in particular is their utter passivity to events. The wheels fall off the wagon on a daily basis and they just throw their hands up in horror and cry: "Oh woe, look at what the world does to us!"

Case in point: we still haven't heard anything officially about the last inspection. If I were in T. Aldous' shoes, whether the report was good, bad or indifferent as soon as I got the first informal feedback from the inspectors I'd have been spinning it like a top in a whirlwind. As it is, staff are hearing odd bits in dribs and drabs and with no context to work in.

The latest word is that the inspectors were baffled by our pattern of opening hours. Well good luck to them. There's not a member of staff who can reliably recite the opening hours of all our libraries without a crib. All of our libraries open at 10.00am, except for the ones that open at 9.30am or 9.45am and those that don't open until the afternoon, in which case they open at 1.00pm. Or 1.30pm. Or 2.00pm. Some libraries close for lunchtime, either at 12.00 or at 12.30pm or at 1.00pm. Some don't open in the afternoons at all, caring not to catch the after-school trade. Some close for one afternoon a week. Some close for a day a week. This madcap pattern would be alright if it meant that a steady level of branch staff were available for providing cover throughout the week. It doesn't. We have a glut on Monday and Friday afternoons and Thursday and Friday mornings are a famine.

What arcane methodology led us to this position? Enter Reggie Clockwatcher, who was given the job of devising the curtailment of opening hours during the budget crisis of 1994. And how did he choose the opening hours of each library? Did he analyse use patterns? Did he consult with the local community? Did he use the experience of other library authorities? No, he asked branch library staff which afternoons they fancied off. So half of them chose market day. Then they found out that they weren't going to have the time off: they'd be working at their local main library.

I never did find out what the saving was here. The building costs remained constant, as did the staffing costs -- no one's hours were cut. I can only imagine that there's some huge saving on the use of lightbulbs.

I half expected a nymph to appear

The girls at Catty Library have had another of their Anne Summers' parties. Not something you want to hear about before you have your dinner. Arrivals at the party were greeted at the door by their hostess, Roxy Clutterbuck, dressed in a PVC nurse's outfit notable for being both very tight and very short. Now, Roxy is a lovely lady but this is not one of those mental images you want to cling to in the aching voids before dawn.

Rosy Dalston won a vibrator. The dear old thing was ever so happy as she does a lot of baking.

Monday, October 17, 2005


The things you learn... I bumped into one of the caretakers apparently struggling to get Santa's sack into the Outreach Van. It turns out that T. Aldous has issued orders that the old newspapers from the Reference Library should be taken to Tesco's and dumped in the recycling bins there. This saves us the cost of the Recycling Unit's taking the newspapers away and recharging us. But costs us the caretaker's time and the petrol for the return journey and makes us look silly.

Three seasons

It's that time of year again. Only this lunchtime Frog Dropmore and I were handing out sticks of rock to the poor huddled masses of the backroom staff (they were both in). This afternoon I find that some damn fool has installed a flashing Santa in the gents.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

With one arm and one arm gone west, she ran like the devil and grabbed the rest

Preparations are in full swing for Trafalgar Day at Milkbeck Library. The Friends of the Library are in full sail with all strops flailing as they put into action the most comprehensive campaign of patriotic fervour and cultural awakening since the Festival of Britain. Reality checks are made difficult by the chairlady (sic) of the Friends being both utterly selfish and venal and also the sister-in-law of the Mayor, Councillor Donkeyhanger. She has told the Helminthdale Examiner that the library will be bedecked with bunting and that once inside the hundreds of milling throngs from the local community will be enthralled by a life-size diorama of the death of Nelson; a local history talk on the Napoleonic Wars; face-painting; a puppet show; and storytelling sessions concentrating on stirring tales from our great naval past. As the available floor space in the library is roughly twice the size of the average living room, we'll have to let the walls out or something. The good news is that nobody's found a way to make any of this my problem. Yet.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Stock editing

We're looking at our stock performance against the national performance indicators. We're struggling because although we're buying lots of new stuff no one wants to throw anything out, so the shelves are literally so full that you can't prise a book out without having twenty or thirty of its fellows fall on the floor about your feet.

I asked why we still had two copies of the 1991 Guinness Book of Records on the adult catalogue at Umpty Library.

"People like to borrow the Guinness Book of Records."

"Yes, but the 1991 edition of the Guinness Book of Records?"

"It's the only one they've got at Umpty."

T. Aldous' solution was devastatingly simple: let's get rid of everything in reserve stock. Yes, that'll solve the problem of groaning shelves at Catty and Umpty. Expect strong words from the Stock Librarian next week!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

English as she is spoke

Here's camp old Dolly recounting her dust-up with the gents in uniform on the way in to work. Apparently, they objected to her parking. Fair enough, but not for Dolly...

"'Who the hell do you think you are?' I said to him. 'If you want to give me a parking ticket you get someone higher up than the likes of you to do it. I want to see the supernintendo.' That told him."

One of the wind-up merchants had Dolly convinced that flat-pack wardrobes are called suppository furniture. Because you put it up yourself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Triple negatives

Staff meeting. T. Aldous at his best...

"As you know, Education & Libraries had some consultants in last week to have a look at management styles within the department. We've had some initial feedback and it's quite disappointing really. We should have had someone who had some experience of libraries..."

"They said that I'm negative. I'm not negative at all. You know that I'm very approachable and open to ideas. They made a lot of suggestions about ways we should change the service but I can't see it happening in this council..."

And there should be prizes for things like this:

"They say that staff have problems getting themselves heard. I told them: 'I've not heard anything like that'."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Running colours

T. Aldous appears bearing a swatch and samples. Damn. I was rather hoping to get home before Christmas. Apparently it's Dutch Bend's turn for a lick of paint over the crumbling plaster and he's doing the usual exercise in canvassing staff views on colour schemes. The walls will be magnolia and the carpets will be green, because they always bloody are. I suggest sage blue and a carpet that looks like somebody's already vomited on it. The blue would be calming and the carpet wouldn't show the stains. It won't be the most outlandish suggestion. T. Aldous will consult everybody until somebody says "magnolia and a green carpet," which he will take as a mandate for the colour scheme. The game is seeing how long, and how many libraries, it takes to get there.

Pumpkins to the lot of you

It must be autumn... We've just had the first councillor telling staff at Umpty Library that they're not to do any Hallowe'en story promotions because they're unchristian.

It's almost worth getting the devil worshippers in to test the council's equal opportunities policy.

Thick wet blanket in case of fire

Fire inspection. In comes a guy with a clipboard who we all know is the one who sends rude emails whenever we report a broken window. He goes into reserve stock, looks around and tells the caretaker:

"I wouldn't have all these books in here, it's a fire hazard."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Oh dear

Until today a thirty-foot-long "Save the Catty Line" banner has adorned the Town Hall to protest about Whitehall plans to close this branch line. Today it has been taken down.

Somebody found out that the council didn't have planning permission for it.

Observation and deduction

The thirteen damp boxes of books that didn't sell at Windscape have been littering the main corridor for just over a week now. Today they have disappeared.

Panic all round: another inspection!

Watching the pennies while the pounds go down the plughole

Belt-tightening time again (yawn... when is it ever not?). For this month all new expenditure must be approved by departmental management team. Which is why six people on principal officer grades spent half an hour discussing the pros and cons of buying a £10 thermos flask for the children's activity unit at Helminthdale.

After reading the business case that Frog Dropmore had to spend twenty minutes writing to justify the proposed spending.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


We've been trying to move the library out of Pottersbury Road Primary School for a couple of years without success. There are a few reasons for wanting to leave:
  • The issue figures in the school holidays are crap and certainly not worth the cost of staffing the place;
  • Monthly adult issue is in double figures; and
  • As a landlord the school's on a par with Peter Rackman.
The relationship between the school and the library has always been difficult. Although the library is a paying tenant, the school treats it very much as part of its domain. We had official complaints about the colour of the kinder boxes; severe objections to paperback spinners ("these are very inconvenient when we want to use the room for classroom activities"); and they were very anti our having computers for public use on the people's network ("We are very concerned that people will come in to use these computers." T. Aldous, to his credit, replied: "we would be very concerned if they didn't.")

The decider for T. Aldous was his turning up to visit the library one day for a meeting and finding the builders in knocking down the walls of the staff room to expand the SureStart office. When he asked what the hell was going on Trudi Barleymow, the head teacher, told him that he had to move the network hub for the people's network some time that week so that the rest of the staff room could be converted for SureStart. Considerable force was added to the argument when the school doubled the rent to cover a budget shortfall caused by the building work.

So we went through the inevitable consultation exercise. Ms. Barleymow got herself in the local rag "battling for our school library" (nobody pointed out that it was supposed to be a public library). In the end, and true to form, the councillors decided not to make a decision and so the status quo prevailed, except for another small rise in the rent to allow for inflation.

The branch librarian's on leave this week so we've been covering Pottersbury Road with assistants from Helminthdale. They turned up this morning and found themselves locked out. The school had changed the locks and neither told us nor supplied keys. Mass panic as, of course, nobody's around on a Saturday who may have keys. Eventually, the caretaker was discovered in the local supermarket and the library opened an hour late.

I was all for not bothering and, instead, ringing the local rag to get a photographer in to get a picture of staff and customers subjected to a Victorian lock-out by a cruel landlord. "School shuts out the library it fought for" "We can't understand it; we always pay the rent in advance, even when it's been doubled without prior notice." Ah well, it was a nice dream.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lie back in the long grass and watch the bucks passing by

The works department has checked out Spadespit Library and has decided that the dry rot has spread into the library from the old police station next door. The police haven't occupied this building since Dixon was a lad, but the works department has decided that the police should foot the bill for the repairs to the library. What makes this remarkable is that the council owns the old police station. This one will run and run.

We've advised the Branch Supervisor that she should get plenty of mattresses piled up in the cellar ready for when the floor caves in.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

101 things you don't need a builder for

It's teeming with rain and it isn't flooding Grimly Library. This is a first in living memory. A few of the staff investigated the loft to try and discover why not. It turns out that a squirrel's drey has blocked the major hole in the roof. An email is circulated suggesting that the council's works department is replaced by squirrels.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I have died and gone to Hell

An apparently standard 'phone call of the "my mouse isn't working" variety turns into:

"Does the cursor move at all when you move the mouse?"

"A little bit."

"Hold the mouse up above the desk and put your hand underneath. When you move the mouse can you feel the ball rolling along your hand?"

"There isn't a ball..."

"Ah. I think I know what the answer is..."

"...we lost that the other day so I put a Malteser in the hole."

I want to go home

We're desperate for some new borrower cards. We ordered some only to find that corporate procurement had fallen out with the usual supplier and had decided to go out to tender. After the usual interval, a new supplier was selected; we put in the order, including some blank cards to use as templates and a note of the barcode number we'd need to begin the sequence. After two weeks I got this call:

"These library cards you sent us, they've got different numbers."


"You don't want all the cards to have the same number then?"

Son of chocolate teapot

T. Aldous has been trying to arrange a meeting with our corporate IT account manager for three weeks. 'Phone calls, emails, faxes, all to no avail. Eventually, this morning he struck lucky:

"I've been trying to contact you for a fortnight. You don't answer your calls, nor your emails, and nobody will take a message. We urgently need a meeting with you to try and get something moving."

"Can you ring us back in ten minutes, we're in the middle of a quiz."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chocolate teapot 2

Obviously a day for it...

One of our application servers is housed with all the corporate servers, for 'convenience sake.' We couldn't access it. When I reported the problem I was told:

"This is supposed to be a turnkey solution; we don't support it. We suggest you contact the supplier."

It turned out that somebody over there had turned it off.

Chocolate teapot 1

Our corporate PC network managers have been fiddling with the firewall and closed down all the ports. We complained that we couldn't see our supplier's Java-based catalogue and explained what they'd done and how to fix it.

They replied that we should contact the supplier as they "obviously have a problem with their server."


We're piloting our corporate communications policy. We found out when T. Aldous spotted it in some committee papers.

Turns out that the policy is a CD-ROM that's been circulated around different sections of the council. That is one CD-ROM. Around different sections of the council.

Characters of our time

You'll think I'm making this guy up. It might help if you bear in mind that he was employed at a time when our lead officer thought it appropriate to ask interviewees whether they were likely to "fall pregnant" in the first two years of the job...

Harry Vaseline, one of our branch librarians, is a lovely guy, just a bit idiosyncratic. On my first day in the job I was introduced to him and told slightly later: "he has his own way of doing things, but that's just him. He was gassed as a child." It took me a long time to realise that he was the wrong age for this to have happened in any international conflict.

The most disruptive, but least alarming, of his habits is to go and disappear in the toilet for hours, literally, on end. Possibly because of his medical condition, but nobody's sure. He's built himself an outside lavatory at home. Every so often we get a 'phone call from his house mate first thing to say that "Harry's gone to the bottom of the garden so you may as well start without him."

His really alarming habit is to stand on his head behind the counter and explain at length about his lack of sex life. That goes down well with the punters.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A kick up the arts

Just when you thought... and this has to be one of the best of all time.

One of our branches closed for a week to be redecorated. Prior to this, in a let's-see-what-the-colours-will-look-like effort, they used a recently replastered bit of wall as a sort of palate. On re-opening one of the borrowers complained:

"Why did you spend all that money on the mural if you were only going to paint over it?"

Friday, September 30, 2005

Smoke and Spadespit

Things don't improve do they? I don't know how any of this becomes my problem, but it does...

The saga of Spadespit Library continues apace. Barring a couple of days when the Group Librarian — who has left since — decided the place could be open as she wasn't there, the earliest expected re-opening is next Monday. Until then a sort-of off-line service is continuing from a room in the Town Hall, while ridiculously a hundred yards up the road a small collection of books reside in the Council Customer Centre where they have full access to the library system.

Meanwhile back at the branch, they have discovered the floor and supports under it are riddled with dry rot and a further closure of at least six weeks will be necessary before the end of the year.

Health and Safety want to close the WHOLE building as there isn't adequate provision for fire exits from the staff room (there isn't any provision for fire exit from the staff room) and there aren't arrows on the dry rotted floor indicating the way out should there be a fire! The Branch Supervisor was told to close her eyes, spin round and then try and find her way out of the library without reopening her eyes, as that would be what it would be like if the place was full of smoke. As she pointed out, if it was that full of smoke she would be on the floor suffocating and, rather accurately, pointed out she wouldn't be able to see the arrows for the smoke anyway!

Actually I'm quite in favour of this business of closing branches where there isn't adequate fire exit provision as a rough estimate means we will have about three left open, a much more managable number.

Does anyone wonder why this madness is driving me insane?

¡Non passerans!

We found out why we weren't getting any deliveries today. The security guard on the gate to the parking area wouldn't let the vans in because the drivers didn't have ID matching the names on his list.

Open sesame!

First 'phone call of the day, from Catty Library:

"Hiya. We're locked out of the library. Can you arrange for us to get in?"

Just a minute... why ring me? Don't tell me they're blaming the computers for being locked in? Mind you, I could well understand the poor little buggers wanting to barricade the doors.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Plumbing new depths

Tom Thunderstruck rings from Spadespit Library. The library's had to be closed because of the new toilet. Not quite as lavish as Lakeside (but what could be this side of Las Vegas?), it turns out to be quite spectacular in its effect. The outflow pipe runs uphill to the external drainpipe. Which means that the toilet bowl acts as a sump. Not only does nothing flush away properly but having got as far as the drainpipe the effluent retreats downhill, pulling along with it any odd bits of untoward matter that was lingering in the drainpipe. After six days of this the whole library smells like nothing on earth. Even T. Aldous admits that this is intolerable and, eventually, agrees to the library being closed while a solution is found. Please can I send a message out to everyone to let them know (Tom daren't switch on anything electric in case the spark ignites the methane in the air).

I send out the message. Catty Library replies: "Does this mean that Spadespit won't be dealing with reservations our customers have placed on books there?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Knock, knock, knocking at the library door

Seenbene Library sits in a park just off the main road. We're having continuing problems with prostitutes using the doorway and car park as a trading venue. We don't see them during library hours but there's plenty of evidence of their presence each morning. I was there this lunchtime and overheard this conversation between Derek the caretaker and Hettie, the assistant librarian:

"I'm sick of sweeping up condoms every morning. You'd think somebody would do something about it."

"They'll probably end up putting a condom machine on the wall of the library."

"I wouldn't put it past them. In fact, I'll bet Huxtable's put in a requisition for one as one of his money-making schemes."

"God, I hope not. They'll stick some gigantic income target onto it. We'd either have to encourage more prostitution or else the shortfall will be taken from the book fund."

We're working on some "Shag for literacy" posters, just in case.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


T. Aldous awakes from his e-government slumbers and shambles into my office. I growl, but to no avail. We do the dance.

"What are we doing about smartcards?" he demanded.

"You tell me," I suggested. "I've been asking you for a year what you want the smartcards to do."

"What do they need to do?"

"Whatever it is that you think we need smartcards for."

"Can we do it in time for the March deadline?"

"It depends on what you want to do."

"I'll put smartcards down as one of our strategic goals for this financial year then."

And off he trots. This conversation is wrong on so many levels I can only shrug it off and mentally walk away. I would suggest that smartcards could be used for booksales, monitoring use of old encyclopedias and withdrawn book statistics but it would be just my luck for this to become official policy to be delivered by Christmas.

The curse of doing things well

The curse strikes again. The last lot of inspectors were very impressed by Carbootsale Library so it immediately became a candidate for relocation around the back of St. Thomas à Didymus Primary School. Their draft report has arrived and it turns out that they also have nice things to say about Roadkill Library and its place within the community so it's now suggested that it should be co-located in the new SureStart complex on Dogtwitcher Road. There's less floor area than at the current library, so there'll be no space for the line dancers or for the full range of community activities that currently go on there.

Ardley Corduroy, our esteemed director, tells us again that co-location is needed so that the library can be made to appeal to the community.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Starting the week as we mean to go on

I think I've mentioned that T. Aldous' telephone is perpetually put through to an empty office so that he doesn't have to answer it himself. The rest of us spend our time having to drop whatever it is that we're doing to pick up the call, hunt the damned fool down to tell him that he's got a 'phone call and then kick our heels awhile waiting for him to finish his inevitibly prolonged and tortuous conversation (because he never says: "I'm on someone else's 'phone at the moment; I'll go back to my office and call you back"). Today we have a new twist. Sally took a call, bearded T. Aldous in his lair and came back to her desk. Along comes T. Aldous...

"Why did you pick up this call?"

"Because the 'phone was ringing and somebody needed to pick it up."

"Where's Edie? She should be picking the calls up if nobody's around."

"She's on her lunch."

"Tsk. This really isn't good enough, these things need to be co-ordinated."

"Look, we made sure that somebody was around to pick up your calls. The 'phone went. I picked it up for you. What's the problem?"

"I just don't think it's good enough."

"Councillor Winalot's still on the line. He wanted to speak to you, remember?"

It's amazing how many people have checked with Personnel that their job description doesn't include the phrase: "Personal Assistant to the Chief Librarian."