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.