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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Equal sequel

They're doing this to annoy me. Milkbeck Library is having aromatherapy sessions as part of the local 'healthy living' campaign. Ladies only.

Some are more equal than others

I've just been providing a population profile of our borrowers for the inspection. T. Aldous nodded sagely as Ardley Corduroy told the inspectors that we had plans to address the needs of minorities in the district, especially women. I endeared myself to him by pointing out that in the last census the ratio of men to women in the district was 55:45 and that of our borrowers was 63:38.

I had to explain why our female:male ratio comes to 101%. Garbage in, garbage out, unless one of our libraries really is largely patronised by hermaphrodites and transexuals. "In that case, the statistics could be entirely wrong and male members could outnumber female members after all." "Have you been in any of our libraries lately?" I asked. I didn't ask if he'd surveyed many members lately. One doesn't like to intrude.

Perhaps he'd be happier if I just shouted numbers out at random.

Oho yes... The move into Noddy Community Centre has hit a snag: the community centre managers have said that they don't like the idea of men going through the centre to go to the library as they might all be perverts.

Indoors if wet

Windfarms are a touchy subject round these parts, with the protagonists for and against rabidly passionate and beyond persuasion. I only mention this to give you an idea as to the origins of the name of Windscape Village and the prevailing weather conditions. I have just heard T. Aldous tell an inspector that we are going to have an al fresco booksale in the library car park as part of the village's autumn festival next month. We'll be borrowing the marquee from the children's team. Should be fun. The library's single-staffed so it'll be interesting to see if he's outside with the booksale or inside with the borrowers. If he's any sense he'll be in the snug at the Monkey's.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dancing with librarians

Installing new kit on the network at Roadkill Library, working around the line dancers and children's storytime. I'm very, very popular as this means that the Roadkill Rancheros can't carry on using the PCs as coat hangers. To express their displeasure they made sure that all the line dancing steps involved their kicking the furniture at every third beat.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Reality check

"We'd like a focus group of thirty-five middle managers on Thursday morning," says the inspector.

"The total staffing complement on Thursday morning is forty-one people," says Mary Dunroamin. "Shall we close all the libraries or just keep one or two open as a token gesture?"

No good deed goes unpunished

First day of the inspection. They went out to Carbootsale Library to have a look round. They were very impressed, it's a nice little library with lots going on and its a lively hub for the local community, which is a popular venue for "it's grim up north" films. T. Aldous was on a high: a couple of the inspectors spent the whole of the journey back enthusing about the library and its staff. They liked the layout and the big picture windows with the paintings of Spot and Spongebob Squarepants. They liked the community space. They liked its being in a parade of shops next to a bus stop. They liked it. "Just what a community library should be like!" says one.

At five o'clock T. Aldous got a 'phone call from our esteemed director, Ardley Corduroy, to say that Carbootsale Library's going to be moved into a room in the local primary school. That's round the corner, up the hill (natch!) and the entrance will be around the back by the dustbins. The room in question is about two-thirds the size and doesn't have a community space. "It's important that we make the library joint use so that it can be made to appeal to the community," says Ardley.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Two tin cans and a bit of hairy string

Once we got the bits of dead pigeon out of the hub the network at Grimly purred back into life. I can only think it got swept in during last week's rain (Grimly's roof leaks like a sieve).

The power of positive thinking.

T. Aldous and Reginald are quite sanguine about the inspection. We couldn't understand their complacency until one of the caretakers broke the secret:

"They've just sent me out to buy a bowl of fruit and a table cloth."

That's OK then, nothing to worry about. I'll just sit back and wonder why Grimly Library's been off-line all morning.

Friday, August 26, 2005

How to impress

We've got this inspection nailed: T. Aldous sent the caretaker out to get some stainless steel bog roll holders so that "we can look more professional".


What it says on the tin

Unhappy customer at the service desk:

"What on earth are you doing having books like this in the children's library? I took this out so that I could tell the story to my four year old. And what do I find? The boy in the story finds out that his mummy is dying. How awful is that. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

The book is called "Death in a Nut" and there's a big warning label on the cover to say that the story may upset some children.

Ah, the public. Almost as bad as librarians.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Taking a rise

Feeling lazy and having an arm full of boxes I decided to take the lift down to our floor. I was joined by a couple of teenage girls.

"Do you work here?" one asked.


"The people who work here usually tell us we can't use the lift."

"I can't be bothered," I said.

The other girl explained: "I have to use the lift, I've got toothache."

Heard the lot now!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

It really isn't just us!

Visiting a colleague elsewhere in the North of England, we repaired to the pub for lunch. Over in a corner was a bunch of happy-daft people chatting and laughing loudly.

"I wouldn't go near them," he warned.

"Why not?"

"They work in the library."

I thought no more about it until a chap at the next table to them got up and spoke to them loudly.

"Are you from Social Services?"

"No, from the library."

"Aah. You won't know that your head of service is retiring in November, will you? I bet you wonder how I know. I'm a councillor."

And he walked off.

I was a bit surprised by this. My colleague was shocked:

"Our head of service only found out himself yesterday and he came in from holiday especially this morning to let us know about it before the corporate email announced it."

"That's a bit off. Are you going to complain about that councillor then?" I asked.

My colleague shook his head. "If I make a fuss it'll be them lot over there as get witch-hunted. Let sleeping dogs lie. God knows there's enough of 'em."

That's all right then

T. Aldous tells the staff at Dutch Bend that he can't discuss the restructure.

"I was on holiday when all that was done," he tells them.

Measuring value

Another throwaway wonder by T. Aldous Huxtable, chief librarian, prince among men and people-manager supreme. Bustling out of the building he was heard by everybody to shout to his secretary:

"I'm off to Dutch Bend Library. I'm going to show Edie Bridstock how to shelve books."

The inspectors are impatient for a report that should have been in last Friday, staff want to talk to him about the restructure and Edie Bridstock's been running Dutch Bend Library for thirteen years.

Sometimes even the most insensitive must notice when their chafing is starting to draw blood.

JCBs in the Meadow of Consolation

Just as I'd forgotten all about the restructure and was feeling good about the fact that a new Library Assistant had come up with a couple of great ideas and we'd worked through a way of creating a staff training resource while simultaneously increasing the number of adaptive workstations for the public and removing a couple of embarassments, along comes our esteemed leader who vetoes it all because we hadn't also decided to reshelve a reference library. Aaagh!!!

The light at the end of the tunnel is the light of an oncoming train

Our capacity for mismanagement is currently surpassing itself, which is no mean feat. Every time we think we've started scraping the barrel we discover whole new depths to plumb. The runaway trains of our Best Value review (a startling bog-up which commits us to a whole heap of complicated and expensive stuff but which is notably resource-lite) and the forthcoming Audit Commission inspection seem to be concentrating minds rather in the same way that being simultaneously defenestrated and debagged brings a certain focus and clarity to the proceedings. The last inspection, two years ago, left us awarded zero stars and "no prospect of improvement." Since then, issue figures have gone down a quarter; visits have been boosted enough by the People's Network for them to have only dropped by 10% and staff morale has plummeted to the point where I've been having to act as cheerleader-in-chief for Library Management Team amongst the poor huddled masses, not a rôle I'm used to.

And now we've just heard about the announcement of a new management structure. The announcement was limited to just "the people affected by the changes," which turned out to be all the librarians and no one else. The other ranks had to wait to hear officially for another six weeks, though by then the damage was more than done. The new structure is actually sensible and long-overdue. The way it's been presented, and a few of the side shows, have been astonishing.

All senior management posts are re-graded big time “to attract the right people”. This has gone down well with the Library Assistants who have been waiting over a decade for their regrade to be implemented. One interesting quirk of the new posts: they’re all on operational library hours rather than flexi-time or work/life balance (“celibacy and adoption” as that’s known here). The reason? So that they can cover the enquiry desk on Saturdays and Thursday evenings. We have people being paid c. £12k single-staffing libraries and the Library Service accounts for about half of the council’s lowest paid staff. On the plus side, we will have the best-paid enquiry desk staff in the country.

Talking to a colleague about something else (we were comparing approaches to a common problem with our web catalogues) I mentioned the restructure and had a good long moan about it.

"Bugger me!" cried my colleague, "it sounds just like what happened here last year."

"How's it working?" I asked.

"No idea, they still haven't appointed any of them yet."

It's not just us.

Life imitates art

A colleague from another damp part of northern England accuses me of stealing one of his after-dinner anecdotes and sends me a picture to prove it.

All it proves to me is that there are more lunatics running the asylums than there are in them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The peasants are revolting

Overheard: T. Aldous Huxtable hurling a passing comment at a very harassed colleague:

"I hear that some library authorities are providing internet services on mobile libraries."

"I hear that some library authorities are filling vacancies."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Care in the community postscript

I'm reminded of the time one of our library assistants died in harness. A very nice, very popular and hard-working member of staff, everyone who knew her wanted to go to the funeral so her family arranged it so that the funeral was at lunch time so that as many people could get there as possible (our branch libraries close for lunch). The only problem was that the library she worked at didn't close for lunch but we, and our customers, thought that this would be closed just this once as a sign of respect. How wrong can you be? Her closest colleagues only got to the funeral because staff from further afield gave up their lunch hours to cover the building. No customers came in that lunchtime as they all assumed the place was closed.

It's a poor do when you're not even allowed to bury your dead.

Let's have a ride on your bicycle...

Global email from the Sustainable Growth Unit of Helminthdale Council:

It's Bike Week in Helminthdale!
Have you any ideas for this year's Bike Week? If so, send them in to the Sustainable Growth Unit!

Global response from someone in the Borough Engineer's Department:

Perhaps you could teach them what the red traffic light is for.

Care in the community

One of the library assistants came into work rather upset because her mother had died this weekend. She asked for time off on Friday for the funeral.

"No, you can't have leave, we've already got three people off that day and we can't provide cover."

"Well, can I have the afternoon off? The funeral's at 2pm."

"This is very inconvenient. We can't spare you."

"Well, look, this is my mother I'm burying. Can I at least take my lunch hour late so that I can go to the funeral?"

"Oh I suppose so if it can't be helped."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Graph spree

Sometimes you have to wonder how some librarians get their trousers on in the morning. Our Learning Services Librarian, Reginald Clockwatcher is a case in point.

He's got to do a PowerPoint presentation to the latest bunch of inspectors to show what a jolly good job he's doing. He'd heard that the son of one of the Library Assistants was very good at doing graphs in PowerPoint and he asked if the lad would mind doing some for him, for a consideration. When he turned up this morning, Reginald was effusive, shook his hand, thanked him kindly and then handed him some graph paper and a protractor.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Quite well-respected in the profession

Jimmy Huddersfield retires next week, which will be a bit of a blow as he's the only one who knows how e-procurement works. To give him due, he gave three months' rather than two months' notice to give them a chance of getting the vacancy filled in a timely manner. The clever money's on it only taking six months this time because three library standards depend on this post.

Innocent bystander: "Don't they get someone in before the postholder retires so that they can be shown the ropes?"

Me: "Quiet fool! I laugh in your face and scorn you. Scorn! Scorn! Now sit in the corner until you get a grip."

Jimmy's been spending months trying to get a meeting to work through his job description so's the job adverts can be prepared in a timely manner. Still no joy.

He got a letter yesterday from the head of Helminthdale Adult Learning Services thanking him for his work over the past twenty-five years and wishing him luck on his retirement. Unfortunately, Jimmy doesn't work for Helminthdale Adult Learning Services and has no idea who the head of this service is, which is probably mutual. Only in Helminthdale could you spend quarter of a century working for a department and get a farewell-and-good-luck-on-your-retirement letter from an entirely different one.

He's already framed the letter as a souvenir of this caring council.

Give us a clue II

More open plan...

Obviously taking her cue from Our Beloved Leader, Edie Bedspread demonstrates the mime for "Trying to get a supplier's name changed on the corporate accounts system." It doesn't appear seemly for a lady of her years. The language is a bit robust, too.

The "Why the hell have I copped for CIPFA+ Questionnaire statistics again?!?" mime over in the far corner of the room would freeze your waters. God knows what Cicely would be like if she knew she had an audience to play to.

I'm told that people know when I'm talking to IT about our portal by the colour of my face.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Take me home mummy!

I'm ready for putting away...

The Lithuanian Working Men's Club and Institute, which is opposite Catty Library, has just bought a big screen TV for the football, etc. and have put up a big banner outside to this effect: "BIG SCREEN HERE NOW." Catty being a windy place and the Lithuanian Working Men's Club and Institute no good at tying knots, part of the banner has ruckled and partially obscured some of the wording.

I was standing outside Catty Library, waiting to be let in, filled with wonderment: who was Big Doreen and why was she such an advertising draw?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


The joys of open-plan...

T. Aldous has collared Mary Dunroamin to tell her that "we must get together and go through the action plan responses, it's urgent." They then tell each other that they must get together. At length.

See T. Aldous tell Mary.
See Mary tell T. Aldous.
"We must get together," says T. Aldous.
"We must get together," says Mary.
See Mary.
See T. Aldous.
See T. Aldous and Mary tell each other they must get together and go through the action plan responses.
See Spot run.

Having done that, they have now spent fifteen minutes discussing whether the paper recycling bin is in the right place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Vale varlet!

We bid a fond farewell and bon chance matey to another of our librarians. Service Librarian, state-registered crash dummy and all-round prat "Monsignewer" Eddie Gravy's retirement brings up to fifteen vacancies in this building (not counting the posts that have been deleted).

Eddie is a funny chap. Obviously intellectually gifted, he got a double-first in Anatolian History and Woodwork and then came back to this benighted place and spent the next forty years simmering in a stew of intellectual frustration and bitterness first at Catty and then at Helminthdale General Library. Why? No idea. I do mourn his passing: he was the wake-up call for the likes of me: this is what happens if you stay here too long.

I shan't miss the crash, crash, crash of his typing. He went through twelve keyboards in six months, complaining bitterly that no matter what he typed it came out as gibberish (a lucrative career as a Booker Prize novelist sadly neglected). What I never told him was that there were only three keyboards: the one from his PC, the one from the secretary's PC and a spare one that had a broken tilde/hash key. He would first complain about his keyboard, which I would swap with the secretary's. The secretary never had any problems with either keyboard, and she did considerably more typing. At some point within the next couple of weeks he'd decide that this keyboard was hopeless too. At which point I'd give him the broken keyboard. The defect shouldn't have affected him as there was nothing that he was doing that needed either a tilde or a hash to be typed. He'd be happy with this for a week or two and then start complaining to anyone but me. A couple of the staff had been primed to wander over to the keyboard, press the tilde/hash key, tut and say: "ooh yes, I should tell him about that." "I can't be bothered now," Eddie would say in a huff. I'd get to hear about this some time in the two days between this part of the performance and his coming to complain to me. The evening before I thought he'd be coming, I'd swap his keyboard back to his original one and change his settings to US keyboard. When he came in to complain, I'd try and type a pound sign, suck my teeth, go into Windows Control Panel, change to UK keyboard, come out and type all the characters correctly.

"I don't understand it. You usually only get that when you've downloaded a cookie from an e-commerce site and that wouldn't be happening here."

Eddie would say nothing. We all knew he spent most afternoons on eBay.
Keyboard complaints would be few for the next six or eight weeks and then the cycle would begin again.

Give us a clue!

While I'm ranting about T. Aldous and staff meetings, it might be instructive to explain his preferred model of staff meeting.

Once every six, seven, eight or eleven weeks at ten to six a notice is pinned up on the door to the staff room:

T.Aldous Huxtable

His secretary works 9 to 5.

The meetings start promptly at 9.00am, in so far as everyone except T. Aldous sits around the staff room table with cups of tea looking at their watches. T. Aldous turns up between 9.15 and 9.20 then spends the next ten minutes providing the latest implausible reason why it was impossible to do the ten minute drive from his home in Newhills in to Helminthdale and make it by 9.00am (front line staff commuting all the way from Catty or Dutch Bend have to be in by 9.00am sharp or face a disciplinary). Today it was leaves in the gutter in Melmoth Avenue.

At 9.30 the meeting breaks up because the library's open and staff must attend the customers.

Staff are divided into three groups:

  • The nervous clockwatchers, ready to let loose from the slips at twenty-five past so that the library can be opened.

  • The twitchers, ready and waiting to answer any 'phone call within the statutory four rings. (Resentfully since we found out that T. Aldous spends the previous evenings leaving messages on answerphones and emails asking people to ring 'first thing tomorrow morning')

  • The rest of us, listening intently and wondering if he'll ever come to a point.

Today we had a bizarre new twist. He was chunnering on about the drains at Lakeside and suddenly said: "And we know why it's important that we do this, don't we?" and lurched to one side, the veins on his neck standing out like vomit on a pavement and his head lolling and twitching awkwardly. We thought he'd had a stroke. The first-aiders drew straws to see who would have to give him the kiss of life. The reference librarians shifted their chairs back in case it was catching. An assistant genuflected and gave whispered prayers to St. Jude. "Go on!" said T. Aldous as he twitched and gurned anew.
At last, the ghastly moment reached its crisis: the apparition sighed and straightened up, his face filled with exasperation at his errant six-year-olds.
"Scoring Points By Ticking Boxes!" he said.
Well! How were we to know that that performance meant the latest corporate action plan (soon to be a major motion picture)? He could at least have said if it was a film, a book, or whatever.
It was Frog Dropmore's turn to take minutes. I happened to glance at his notes at this point. He'd written: "Is it on the trolley?"

Are we there yet?

A year ago I was warned that parts of the network in Catty were going to change in July 2005 and so the antediluvean PCs in the Children's Library would have to be decommissioned. The network has been changed successfully and these PCs no longer work. There are now complaints that these don't work. T. Aldous returns from the staff meeting at Catty Library:

"The PCs in the Children's Library at Catty don't work."

"No, they don't."

"How much notice did IT give us that they wouldn't be working?"

"They told us a year ago."

"So what's been done?"

"According to my email archive, a year ago I suggested that we buy some new PCs and have them installed and set up as replacements.

"Nine months ago I suggested that we buy some new PCs to replace them.

"Six months ago I strongly advised that we buy some new PCs to replace them.

"Five months ago I asked you for the money to buy some new PCs to replace them.

"Three months ago I sent you a quotation for replacement PCs and asked for the money to buy the PCs for replacements.

"Three weeks ago I told you that these PCs will be decommissioned and we need to replace them p.d.q."

"Yes, yes, I know all that. What's actually been done?"

"Apparently you read six emails."

Monday, August 15, 2005

Balancing the budget

Like all councils, Helminthdale is in a constant state of financial crisis. A colleague asks if T. Aldous' penny-pinching is anything to do with problems with the council budget. Probably not, I suspect he learnt his trade at the feet of his predecessor, Billy Mothballs. Council minutes show that in the big financial crash of the early nineties, when blood and jobs were flowing through the council chambers, Billy went to his committee and presented his plan for savings on the library budget.

"This is very good Billy," said the Chair of Leisure Services. "Now go away and come back with some smaller cuts."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Stock-editing, Helminthdale-style

"Our stock profile looks bad," says T. Aldous. "It doesn't look like we've met the public library standard for stock replenishment," he adds. Collective shrugs of utter lack of surprise. "Is that because we only spent 20% of last year's book fund?" asks an unwary soul. Card marked.

How does our fearless leader suggest we address this? Perhaps by actually spending some of the book fund? Nay, nay, lad.

"Our junior stock is looking a bit old. If we withdraw all the titles published before 1997 we would remove over 11,000 old titles and the stock would look more modern. "

"But that would remove all the new copies of classic titles."

"How about replacing the stock that we're removing?"

"What about junior reserve stock?"

"But me no buts. We need to do it urgently."

It isn't happening. In his enthusiasm, T. Aldous forgot that he'd "retired" the stock manager before Christmas and half the posts in the cataloguing team have been vacant for eighteen months. This is part of his strategy for keeping a six-figure surplus in his staffing budget. We only wish we understood why. It drives the council accountants barmy.

Friday, August 12, 2005

All of a sudden nothing happens

We're now in a state of panic: two weeks ago T. Aldous was asked to give the director a report-back on progress on last year's Action Plan so that he has something to tell the councillors when he sees them at the end of the month. It's got to be in today (holidays and other nonsense), so for most of yesterday and today T. Aldous has had the serried ranks of library management team (both of them) held prisoner while he compiles their list of glories. "I don't need an essay, just a bullet-point list of progress," says the director. An optimistic person might think that thirty-three man hours of high-powered thought would come up with a mighty list indeed. The optimistic person has no experience of the workings of T. Aldous Huxley...

T. Aldous, like the rest of management team, did his homework on the bus in to school and once it was handed in it was forgotten. So, far from last year's Action Plan being a plan of action against which to plot this year's work, it was just sooo last year, darling. Now it's time to report on how we did, they've got a few hours in which to work out what they meant when they wrote the Plan and come up with excuses why they didn't do it reasons for the changing priorities in the face of changing circumstances.

And they made sure that we were collecting the data for the reporting back, didn't they? Five to six, T. Aldous collared Frog Dropwort, our SureStart Project Manager, and asked:

"Have you got the figures for the number of adults and children who have attended the SureStart events over the past financial year?"

"I've got the figures on file but I've not collated them. When do you want them by?"

"I need them tonight."

Nobody had told Frog that this was one of the Social Inclusion Index Figures established in the Action Plan. By pure dumb luck, he had been collecting this data so that he could provide some information on the success, or not, of the promotional activities of his team.

Progress? As somebody commented: "For God's sake! How long does it take to write: 'We have done jack all this year'?"

Monday, August 08, 2005

Time management

One of the problems with open-plan offices is the things that catch your eye. T. Aldous Huxtable, the chief librarian who's too busy to discuss anything about e-government, spent twenty-five minutes sorting the contents of the paper recycle bin. What is it with these people?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Making a right bog of it

Lakeside Library has been reconditioned for DDA purposes and is now fully accessible for wheelchair users who can come down the hill without having their brakes fail. "We've got the best toilet in the Borough!" trills the librarian, who drags unwary passers-by into the library for a tour of the conveniences. It is a truly magnificent, well-appointed toilet. And so it should be, taking up half the floor area of the library. Just one fly in the ointment: no toilet roll holder.

"Disabled people don't use toilet roll holders," says the Equal Access Worker.

"What do they use then?" asked the librarian.

"They use the sink," said the Equal Access Worker.

The ladies from the Twilight Home were quite indignant at the thought! "Mind you, it's just like them as work for the council," said one. "I bet they all crap in the sink at home."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Who helps the help desk?

Phone call:

"We've got a customer who wants to know why he's not getting anything when he goes onto (URL)."

"OK, let's have a look... Web site not found. It doesn't exist."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Don't be mean with the beancounters, mum!

We're enjoying a week's jolly fun care of Zoltan, our improbably-named auditor. Having been forewarned to "expect a visit from Zoltan," some of the branch staff worked themselves into a lather in the expectation of some sun-bronzed, bicep-ridden hunk. Poor old Zoltan, while a perfectly nice old chap is small, a little stooped and has some of his own hair. How he copes so politely with the constant dashed hopes of ladies of a certain age I do not know.

After hearing two days' worth of whingeing about Zoltan's crawling through the minutiae of the paperwork I was a bit worried when it was my turn. "I want to see how you get your issue figures," he said. I was relieved: "is that all? Brilliant!" Pathetically grateful to have an audience, I sat him down in front of my PC and said: "what I'll do is show you the effect of issuing a book on the system so that you can see how each datum's generated, and then I'll show you how the reports are compiled. It's pretty straightforward, so I can show you the full process."

Zoltan went white. "I don't think that will be necessary. I think you've established that this is pretty sound." And then he scuttled off.

I now have an unenvible reputation amongst my colleagues for having bored an auditor.