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

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?"