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

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."

Friday, September 23, 2005

Outdoors if wet

It's autumn and the weather's on the turn so T. Aldous is talking about taking the gazebo out to Windscape Library to have a book sale in the car park.

You may wonder why we've got a gazebo. It stems from the time we were doing a Children's Book Festival promotion in the car park of a well-known supermarket. In a thunderstorm. Charity prevailed and the supermarket lent us a gazebo to shelter under. They later sold it to us at a knock-down price because it was shop-soiled. Actually, Edie Bedspread persuaded them to sell it for a tenner and after ten weeks' wrangling it was agreed that it could come out of petty cash.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Where are the songs of yesteryear?

In the old days, library systems administrators sang work songs to try and help get themselves through the day. Those days seem to have gone, but luckily enough there are folk musicians out there collecting them for posterity:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Calculus for beginners

On the subject of action plans a colleague points out another gem from management support services:

"We suggest that all libraries with below average issue figures should be reviewed with a view to closure and that this should be a continuing programme until such time as all the libraries in the area achieve at least average issue."

You'd be embarassed to make these things up.

Lights! Camera! Inaction!

For reasons we won't dwell on here a few of us realised just how many action plans the library service is running at the moment. We've got ones arising from each of the inspections so far this year. We've got ones for Best Value, corporate goals, CPA, e-government, Annual Position Statement, and of course F4F. We're running a sweepstakes on how many more there'll be by Christmas.

We've got all these action plans but none of us can think of any action that's been taken on any of them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Value, trust and responsibility

Another day, another focus group. "I've been asked to provide a couple of library assistants for the focus group on operational management," T. Aldous tells Penny Dreadful. "They want to get an honest view of the library service's delivery of services and the way that we operate within corporate policy. It's important that they see that we're very open and that non-professional staff appreciate the value of their role in doing this. I'll be sending Nadia and Florence and I want you to go go along with them to make sure they're giving the right answers."

Penny's been on six focus groups so far this year, solely on the basis that she won't rock the boat and T. Aldous can bully her into going along and being on message.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Statistics for dummies

Corporate management support services excel themselves. A couple of people from this section have been reviewing the performance of the library service (like we're not being inspected to death as it is). Amongst the gems in their interim report is:

"We are concerned that the issue figures for nearly half the libraries are below average for the service."

Next week: consternation as the Pope's catholicism is revealed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The end of another perfect week

Sure as eggs, on the stroke of locking-up time along trots T. Aldous to start talking to me about the problems he's having because someone or other wants Library Impact Measure statistics off of him. The impact measures were announced in March and, save emailing me a copy of the link to the press release announcing the measures three months later I'm not aware of any preparations to collect the necessary to report as required. Luckily, I had the sense to make sure that our computer system collected the stats for health-related stock (a treat and a half as the definition is based on a pick and mix of Dewey class numbers).

"I've sent you an email about impact measures," he says.

"I know, I've sent you a reply."

I put my coat on.

"When I went to the workshop they didn't say anything about requiring statistics six months later," he says.

Four times.

Never trust anything called a workshop that doesn't involve sheet metal working. Especially when it involves woolly-minded idiots like T. Aldous Huxtable who imagine that waffling around the edges of why something can't be done at the moment is the same thing as doing a job of work. I would have thought that calling something a Library Impact Measure suggests that something needs measuring.

"Can you get the figures I've asked for?"

"Yes, if I have a week to do it in and have nothing else to do."

I close down my PC.

"I tried looking at the report submission form but it doesn't work on my PC."

Given half a chance he'll tell me this two or three dozen times. His PC is five years old. He refuses to buy a new one but tells all and sundry that his email, and anything else that involves his being accountable for his inactions, doesn't work ("Someone keeps archiving my emails." "Don't click on the button that says 'Yes' when the auto-archive prompt pops up." "I thought if I say yes then it won't do it." "No, if you say yes then it will do it." "So how will I keep my emails then?" repeat ad nauseam). Having spent most of the week fighting a violent urge to slap the man I have no patience for this sort of nonsense. I get up and leave the office. The fool follows me.

"I'll ask you for the figures on Monday, then."

I clock out and take my leave. I'm reminded of the old song:

One evening in October when I was far from sober,
To keep my feet from wandering I tried.
My poor legs were all aflutter so I lay down in the gutter,
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
We sang, "Never mind the weather just as long as we're together,"
Till a lady passing by was heard to say,
"All his self-respect he looses when such company he chooses,"
And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

A beast of burden hard at its labours

T. Aldous has come in special to lug boxes of booksale books around the library. Nobody's quite sure where they came from. The thuderous looks on the faces of lending staff suggests that a useful competition could be had for ideas where the boxes could go.

Our chief librarian has come in on a Saturday to spend four hours pratting about with booksale books. I know for a fact that he spent an hour pricing up a pile of them because he sat right in my eyeline while he did it. Why he bothers pricing them individually I do not know as they're all the same price. I think calm thoughts of daisy-strewn meadows and balmy summer nights while calculating the necessary trajectory for a falling bookshelf to catch the edge of his desk and catapult him out of the window.

Once he'd done whatever it was he thought he had to do, he mooched around the library like the Ancient Mariner, talking at people until they saw bright lights and could smell a mixture of lime flowers and caraway seeds. As the staffing rota for the day looks like the landing crew of the Mary Celeste (we're carrying fourteen vacancies in this library alone and it acts as a feeder for cover for six branches) and Polly Kerosene wasn't going to get her lunch until four o'clock, it probably wasn't the best time for him to come out with: "I don't know why I always end up doing all the work in this library."

Oi ref!

Another Balkan trade directory?!? What are they doing, eating them?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Opportunity knocks but we can't hear because our heads are up our backsides

No pictures of our celebrity looking at the screen on the reference desk. No photos taken because: "he doesn't work there, does he?"

I ring the supplier to say that the deal's off and we won't be getting our nice discount on our next purchase after all.

Words fail me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sale of the Century

The big row early this morning concerned the lending library. T. Aldous wanted to move everything out of the entrance and fill it with boxes of withdrawn books for sale, brought over specially from the cellars of Milkbeck Library. Disregarding the fact that these boxes of books were in the cellars because they'd been in every booksale in the past eighteen months and not sold, T. Aldous saw this as an opportunity to gain some income. "Just think of all the people who'll be coming," he said. All dying to pick up a few over-priced dog-eared paperbacks, no doubt. The lending staff were furious as they'd spent two days tidying the area and putting together a display of Richard & Judy collections. Needless to say, T. Aldous won the day and the displays were carted off to make way for six trestle tables and a score of orange boxes full of tatty old stock. Still, it gives the right impression.

Nobesse oblige (or knobbly knees)

Well, that wasn't so bad. The reference library staff kept out of my way. T. Aldous and Reggie provided a model exhibition of free-form fawning that would grace any production of The Student Prince. Councillor Winalot didn't have a heart attack. And the celebrity was OK. He kept me talking for a good five minutes so hopefully we'll have a couple of pictures we can use for PR and get some favourable terms from our supplier.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Professionals

We're having a celebrity up to open the new reference library (well, the shelves and walls are new, and that's all that counts in the end isn't it?). We'd rather hoped it might be Monty Modlin or perhaps even Titch & Quackers but it turns out to be minor royalty. We're on the sixth rehearsal so far this week and I've forgotten what day it is.

I play the role of computer-literate reference library enquiry desk staff. This is because none of the reference library staff fancied doing it, so Reggie suggested that "the technician should do it." (No jury would convict me.) My job is to stand at the desk and look 21st Century. I have been instructed that on no account am I to make a sweeping gesture at the shelves and say: "will you look at the old crap we've got out here."

Councillor Winalot is sweating profusely, the tension of it all is getting to him. He pretends to be regal and approaches the desk. Then he spoils it: "Now think on, lad, no offence but don't speak till tha's spoken to."

Reggie's on leave. He made such a fuss about the need for "professional" cover that Daisy Hill's been sent up from Bencup to staff the desk. She is so very professional that at five to five there was no member of staff up there; Daisy having left the desk unattended so as to hover backstage around the clock machine so that she can time out at the stroke of five.

One good thing from all this crap: if someone can provide me with at least one good photo of me showing the screen to the celebrity our software supplier has offered us a substantial discount in exchange of the publicity pics. I have emphasised the need for the photos to anyone who passes me by. It's a pain, but it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Your tax pound at work

Reggie Clockwatcher enhances the reference libraries of Helminthdale yet again. This time it's a standing order for "The Cabmen of Northamptonshire." We have no obvious need for this reference work. Reggie's business case for spending £800 is:

"I got 10% discount by agreeing to buy it by 15th September."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie

Someone made the mistake of asking T. Aldous why he had his 'phone put through to his secretary when his secretary was on leave. "All your calls are going to an empty office."

"It makes it easier for people to pick the call up if I'm already on the 'phone. That way I'm not missing any calls."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Us is all information professionals, us is

Up to my neck in e-government work; 'phone red-hot with network problems; emails shouting at me to submit reports on projects. In trots T. Aldous.

"I need to provide a copy of the council's constitution for the inspectors," he says. "I rang the Excellence and Expediency Team [the proud authors of "Scoring Points by Ticking Boxes"] to get a copy. They say it's on the web. Can you get it for me?"

I sighed deeply. I'd asked somebody to make sure to keep the idiot well away from me so that I didn't kill him (I may tell you about this some day).

"I need it this afternoon," he says.

So I start the arduous (not) business of getting onto the council web site, going into the Council & Councillors folder, clicking onto the link labelled "Council Constitution" and copying the URL into an email to T. Aldous.

"When can you do it?" he asked.

"I've done it," I said.

"Thinking about it, would it be possible for me to go onto the web site and look for it myself?"

To my dying day, I'll never know how I didn't say: "no."

Need to know

"T. Aldous wants a map to see where Manchester Museum is," says his secretary.

"That'll be for the People's Network Services presentation," says I.

"You know about that?" asks his secretary.

"Yes, a friend sent me an email telling about it the other day," I reply.

"Send me a copy of that email please," says she.

"No," says I.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Encyclopedias of despair

Best Value critical friend: "Why do you have a copy of the 1997 World Book Encyclopedia when you've also got a copy of the 2004 edition?"

Reference Librarian: "We're very busy, so we have kept a copy of the old edition so that if somebody's already using volume one customers still have something to refer to."

The internet access was down today. The very busy reference library had six customers. None wanted an encyclopedia.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Them's the vagaries

Noddy Community Centre, not content with not wanting to provide access to the community just in case the community is made up of perverts, provides us with new headaches. The best of which is the fire escape, access to which is impeded by a vintage gas meter.

The secret of bad comedy: timing

Librarian: "You've put me down on Saturday's rota as having no lunch break."

Chippy Minton: "That's the best deployment of existing resources on the day."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The secret of good comedy: timing

Jimmy Huddersfield, lately our Stock Procurement Manager, has been retired a week now, with no visible likelihood of his being replaced. So it's been decided that now would be a good moment at which to start spending the book fund, which has been kept on ice for the past five months while management team decided how it was going to get spent. I walked into the end of what was obviously a long and very acrimonious conversation between T. Aldous and the accession team:

"You knew when Jimmy was retiring, so why didn't you get all this lot ordered when he was still around to get it done?"

"Management Team were discussing the best way to spend the money so we couldn't do it while Jimmy was here."

"Well, how are you going to spend the money?"

"We're not sure yet. I've got some ideas that I want to talk through with Mary when she gets back from holiday."

"You could buy some Balkan trade directories. That would soon solve the problem."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Gone but forgotten weekly

Mary Dunroamin's on holiday this week so everyone else is copping for T. Aldous' little foibles. Once a week T. Aldous asks Mary for the stock withdrawal figures for the last financial year for "the report we've got to submit." Once a week she gives him the figures. None of us have a clue what the report is, nor when it is submitted. The one sure bet is that if it's real it must be late.

In Mary's absence, the accession team have been getting the demands because they're in between his office and the coffee machine. "I asked Mary for the withdrawal figures for the report we've got to write and she didn't give them to me," says T. Aldous. A new member of staff panics and starts searching Mary's desk for the figures. "Don't worry," the others tell her when she can't find them. "Mary's given him these figures at least three times in the past month. If Mary's not in, he comes and asks us. Ask Kevin to run the report."

I duly ran the report, which isn't complete because it won't include any stock that's not catalogued (let's not go there). It's given to T. Aldous. Two hours later he's heard to tell someone: "I'll have to ask Mary for last year's withdrawal figures for the report we've got to submit."

With one bound he was free

The union rep asked T. Aldous if there was any chance of a discussion of the reorganisation with the staff side.

"There's no point in asking me about it," says T. Aldous Huxtable, "I was on leave that week."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

You didn't hear it here

I'm told I'm not to mention the story about the local history prints that adorned the saloon bar of The Stag At Bay.

So I won't.

Forgotten but not gone

Popped into Umpty Library to sort out some problems in the Reference Library (no, not them, a faulty printer). As per usual on a Saturday, there was Gordon Trembly, popping in and out of the staff work room and rifling through the local studies files for his next slim volume. Gordon retired as Town Librarian fifteen years ago but still avails himself of the facilities as if nothing has changed.

"Who's that man?" he asked the Librarian.

"That's Kevin Musgrove, he's come in to sort out the printing problems," she explained.

"He's walking about like he owned the place," bristled Gordon's moustache.

"He's probably thinking the same of you," she replied.

Friday, September 02, 2005


The children's librarians are being picked on. "Tell the world about the Reference Librarians," they suggest.

We've just spent £1,000 on a couple of Balkan trade directories for the use of one of their customers, who's been coming in every day for the past eight weeks to ask if "the books I ordered have come in yet." That's one of their customers. That's the service that refuses to buy crossword-solving books for branch libraries because "they're expensive for what they are and serious readers don't use them."

In the circumstances it's probably as well if I don't tell the world about them.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

White rabbits, white rabbits

One of the libraries returns a children's book to the accession team. One of the librarians spotted a problem when she tried to use it for story time. It turns out that although the cover's English, the text inside is in Portuguese. Nothing unusual in that; accidents happen.

What is unusual is that the book's been issued five times and nobody's complained.

Never let a children's librarian make a catalogue

I get on just fine with our current generation of children's librarians. I suspect I'd be doing time for the murder of some of their predecessors. I'm reminded that we had to do a full MARC remap on our library system because some fool decided that the subject headings had to be included in the class number field so that children could do a subject search by referring to the class numbers on the subject index on the wall, entering the class number on the OPAC and getting a list of books on that subject. And as the whole of pre-Norman history had the same class number, you can guess just how useful the PAC was to children looking for the Vikings or ancient Rome. Especially in libraries which didn't display the subject index.

I leave you to imagine what the authority indexes looked like on the system.

Working with this crazy set up was bad enough. Even worse was the amount of work we had to do to unpick the mess when we upgraded the system some years later. We still bump into the odd problem a decade later; when we bought a new web PAC recently we found that an invalid juvenile subtag crashed all the subject searches. Groan...

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Argh! Children's Librarians, together with Local Studies Librarians, chafe at the restrictions of Mr. Dewey and go in for their own bespoke classification systems because they're "special".

Back in the days when we had a Cataloguer, she lost the battle with Local Studies who opted for a non-decimal classification scheme. None of the standard taxonomies suited them so they invented their own. From scratch. There was a committee made up of all the male librarians in the service (do we need any editorial comment here?) and they got to work. Sort of, as only old-school male librarians could. What makes the scheme particularly interesting and difficult to use is that two of the librarians weren't on speaking terms (they shared an office and had been sulking for the previous six months about a filing cabinet).They proceeded to have a fiercely-contested duel of erudition, each trying to out-do the other in the complexity and intricacy of their part of the schedule. In the end, the chap doing the ecclesiasticals used the natural advantages of the subject to defeat the chap doing the sports section. If you don't know your apse from your elder you'll never guess the code number.

That isn't the topic of this log. Children's library catalogues is. At a time when we're seriously looking at starting to download MARC21 catalogue records I find out that the children's non-fiction isn't an old version of DDC after all. I was trying to map some of the key homework topics, existing numbers against new, so that we could have some idea of the scale of dislocation of stock that would be involved if we didn't hire someone to re-classify the bought-in records. I suddenly realised that the numbers didn't make sense. Especially once I realised that the whole of human endeavour from the Ice Age to the Norman Conquest was one class number while Richard III merited one of his own.

I mentioned this to Jimmy Huddersfield when I bumped into him this lunchtime. He explained: "The Children's Librarians wouldn't let the Cataloguer use the same schedule as the rest of the stock. She suggested that if that was too complicated then she could use the schools Dewey schedule. Didn't suit. Oh no. The Children's Librarians insisted on inventing their own: a 'cut-down version' of the 16th edition of Dewey as they were more comfortable with that edition because one of them had spent a couple of days looking at it at library school. The rest of us were already on 18th edition, but it looked a bit complicated. Any subject they didn't like, or didn't understand they fudged, forgot, or threw into a 'miscellaneous' pot. You should have seen the disgust on her face when she was presented with the table of numbers." He grinned evilly: "Have a look at the science section."

I did when I came back.

There'll be some serious reshelving if we go MARC21.