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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Things to do when waking up screaming in the night is not enough

No matter where Hetty moves the PCs at Catty the leaks in the roof follow like ants at a picnic. One of the lads from PC Support went over and between them they've jerry-rigged a sort-of-working set up. An utter credit to their ingenuity and bloody-mindedness they've got the enquiry desk set up: a replacement PC on a sideboard under the staircase.

It's a brilliant set-up in the circumstances but I've still insisted that if anyone's standing in a puddle they're not using any electrical equipment.

This derelict shed is the one that the council's conservation officer insists can't have a wireless network connection.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The stuff that dreams are made on

Tench Road and Dutch Bend are closed for refurbishments and their staff are available to help provide cover at other libraries. Which is why we've got one member of staff on the counter in the main library at Helminthdale.

The reason? Staffing's been so tight over the past year that people haven't been able to take leave so they're trying to catch up with it. Sheesh.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Live from the bathysphere

Today's leak at Catty Library has taken out the entire enquiry desk including the PC and printer. Unfortunately, this PC is the one running the booking system for the People's Network. Hetty Bowling tried her damnedest but even she had to concede defeat when she realised that she was trying to reboot a PC whilst standing in three inches of water. Ctrl-Alt-Del caused a fine spray of water!

Friday, February 24, 2006

A northener surveys his roots

It's disheartening to find that toilets feature so heavily in my nice little blog on public library automation.

I begin to see where the Audit Commission inspectors' obsession with the subject arises.


It wouldn't do to be caught short in Helminthdale Library. The PCs have arrived and I've run out of room in my office. We've had to commandeer one of the stalls in the lavatory and store them there.

All we need now is a dysentry outbreak.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Three thousand burning joss sticks sing "Happy Birthday" to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands

T. Aldous approaches Lola Ptitsa, our sole remaining librarian in half the Borough, doing two and a half librarians' work in half a week and fresh back from long-term sick due to stress.

"What are all these books on your desk?"

"I'm supposed to be checking them to see if they need replacing or transferring."

"Can you get them done today?"

"No. I'm on the enquiry desk all morning and then I've got next week's timetables to sort out and I'm supposed to be shortlisting for the Saturday cadets' posts."

"Well get them cleared quickly, they're in the way."

Says the man who commandeers the training room whenever he's got paperwork to do because his office is like Krakatoa.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

All the little birds go whistle and tweet

No comment...

11.05am 21st Feb 06

Does today's conversation mean that the ten grand for reference subscriptions is now available to spend too?

1312 21 February 2006

Is that the management system software?

1:16pm 21 Feb 06

No. If you remember, it's the money for online subscriptions that I was begging for the other week when I was trying to take advantage of the MLA's negotitated price for Oxford Online.

1003 22 February 2006

Oh yes. My apologies. I'd put that up as a budget saving. If you still want to use it you'll need to get the orders in today.

10:21am 22 Feb 06

It's a tall order. I'll get the details of the stuff we need to you a.s.a.p.

1137 22 February 2006

Cheers Kevin.
Does Warner Baxter know about all this from your point of view?

11:37 22 Feb 06

Not yet but he will.

1145 22 February 2006

Thanks Kevin

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


'Phone call from Arthur Sixpence, of blessed memory:

"Do you still want that software you asked for the money for last year?"

YES!!!!!!!! Dammit.

"Can you get me the details. I need to order it this week."

I obtain the fifth quote and sixth order form for him and hope for the best.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Every day's a re-run and the laughter's always canned

Like the turds returning on the tide at Brighton the paperwork for those damned PCs comes back to haunt me. I can't blame T.Aldous (except perhaps for his lousy timing in deciding to try and order any computer kit this time of the financial year). The poor sod spent two working days getting the run around from assorted bods last week. The upshot is that we (I) have to fill in a new form and -- get this! -- supply layout plans for the PCs on order.

I can just about understand the need for plans for installing PCs onto the network; at the project phase not the ordering phase. Why the hell we have to supply plans for stand alone PCs I do not know. By this stage I'd filled in eighteen three-page forms and was mightily hacked off with the whole gig. I drew detailed floor plans of the libraries involved and added the label: "this Pc to go wherever we feel like in this library."

The idyll passes

Have crept in early in the hopes of getting my head around the "to-do" list before it all starts going ape. To let myself in lightly I treated myself to a quick browse of the incoming non-fiction waiting to be catalogued by my non-existant deputy. I pick up a copy of "Sexual Signs," which turns out to be a British Sign Language manual. No imagination necessary: the sign for "penis" appears to be vaguely boastful; that for "vagina" quite disconcerting (perhaps that's the romantic in me).

And to think there were comments when I bought that book of football jokes for some of our branch libraries!

Monday, February 13, 2006


Happy holiday...

Just had a 'phone call from T.Aldous. The call was to find out what type of PC we should be buying. On the requisition form I'd specified a desktop. T.Aldous had checked with Pookie Schnakenberger in IT to get the price and he was told:
  1. It's the wrong form, we don't use this one any more.

  2. You have to supply plans showing the precise positions of the PCs in the libraries.

  3. You can't have desktops, only towers.

    My response was:
    1. I spent half an hour searching the intranet for a more up-to-date form without success. That's primarily because since 1999 the search facility has been "coming soon." That's the work of the guys who reckon that we should let them create the web interface to the library catalogue and not buy something in that's working in over a hundred libraries across the world.

    2. To be fair to T.Aldous, he doesn't give a monkey's what form we use. Such is the animosity between him and Pookie that he'd be happy for the requisition to be written on bog paper, wrapped around a brick and lobbed through her window.

    3. Conkers. T.Aldous agreed.

    4. The desktops have a smaller footprint: the screens can sit on the processor, they can't on a tower. T.Aldous seized upon this with some glee and rang off.

      I've managed to keep my telephone number a secret from him for seven years; he's somehow managed to wheedle it from somebody. Sigh...

      Friday, February 10, 2006

      When Alexander the Great was my age he'd been dead twelve years

      Escape at last. The last lot of ersatz alarums and excursions involved performance indicators. Earlier this week I'd made the mistake of noticing that we'd actually achieved a public library standard. This set T.Aldous and Mary to the task of debunking the figures so as to prove that the services we provide aren't any good. For the fourth time in two days I find myself explaining: "those figures are the number of items added to stock this financial year and these figures are the number paid for out of this year's funds. Bear in mind that we spent two weeks in April desperately trying to spend up last year's book fund because you put the blocks on any spending the previous summer because you wanted 'to review the way we're targetting our stock buying.'"

      Key to this is a fundamental gulf in the mindsets of myself and my managers. I will quite cheerfully tell any man and his dog just how bad we are organisationally while marvelling at the daily miracle of our not just getting the doors open but also providing a wide range of surprisingly well-delivered services to an unsuspecting public. My managers will tell anybody who'll listen — and many who won't — how bad our services are whilst claiming it's all somebody else's fault and nothing to do with the fact that they won't spend the money we're given and won't fill vacancies.

      In the dark hours of the night I'm haunted by the thought that perhaps there is a management strategy in play in the library service after all. And its keystone is a scorched earth policy.


      Utter shock!

      For the first time in I don't know how long the telephone rings. It's an old dear wanting the housing office at Bencup.

      I should have thrown the bloody thing at T.Aldous after all.

      A mayfly dreams of eternity

      It's my turn now. I'm having the next few days off so I'm desperately trying to get the urgents tied up before I go home. So at three o'clock T.Aldous trolls up and demands that I put together the requisitions for the fifteen extra PCs we need to meet the public library standard as a matter of urgency. This has been too-ing and fro-ing for about eight weeks now; I've provided the same list of suggestions three times; and I'm fed up of listening to the same old waffle over and over again. Now it's a matter of urgency.

      To compound the felony, he spends the next hour popping his head round the door with sundry inanities just to make sure I can't concentrate on the job to hand. Three times he comes in to tell me exactly the same story, word for word, demonstrating the stupidity of the person he spoke to in the IT section about these PCs. When it isn't that one it's the story about the central heating at Dutch Bend and the architect's concerns that rodents may make nests in the pipework. At the best of times I wouldn't be best interested in potential vermin in the imaginations of the Borough's architects department. At present, it's all I can do not to throw the damned 'phone at him.

      As much fun as you can have without actually being sick

      Enter Lemuel the caretaker in high dudgeon. He's spent all morning dismantling and packing up trestle tables upstair in the community room. Then T.Aldous comes along and tells him that half of them are needed for some event this afternoon at 2pm. T.Aldous comes along and tells him at half-past one, while Lemuel's having his lunch.

      My, how he laughed.

      Thursday, February 09, 2006

      The bag meows

      I get a 'phone call from a colleague in IT. "I've got a councillor on the 'phone trying to ring Warner Baxter." ...the telephone system's no better... "He wants to get more details on the closure of Raccoonville Library. Who should he be speaking to?"

      I take the call and drag T.Aldous away from his latest inability to cope with his email to talk to the councillor. Judiciously, I claim that I don't know what he wants to talk to T.Aldous about.

      Raccoonville! I must dig out my tin hat.


      Lola Ptitsa, our sole remaining librarian in half the Borough is back from long-term sick. At half nine, Human Resources rang up to ask why she hadn't submitted her staff's sickness monitoring forms for the past nine weeks. "I've been off sick," she sighed. "You might have noticed my name on Julia's sickness monitoring forms."

      Wednesday, February 08, 2006

      Going nowhere real slow

      Still internal-only calls on the telephones, which is a major pain in the arse when your working day is dominated by trying to sort out problems in twenty libraries without the permissions to proxy into their PCs and do it myself.

      The utter awfulness of the situation is only compounded by the arrival of the new telephones. "We had a problem with the telephones that were first supplied so we have been provided with these higher specification models at no extra cost," says the Chief Executive's global email. First order of the day is how to turn off the sodding loudspeaker so that the whole library doesn't hear every conversation in glorious megaphone. ("Hello Mr. Smedley, this is the clap clinic about your appointment.")

      Being technically-minded (i.e. by pure dumb luck) I work out how to do it at the fifth attempt. We then spend half an hour trying to repeat the success on the Acquisitions Team's 'phone. Only to find out that my particular solution doesn't work because they found out how to stop their 'phone ringing any time any other 'phone on the floor rang. A solution was found. We're now wondering how to stop it picking up T.Aldous' 'phone if he doesn't answer on the third ring.

      Tuesday, February 07, 2006

      Detail of Painting by An Unknown Artist Depicting Unconditional Surrender at the Battle of Helminthdale

      Well, good on T.Aldous! We're no nearer getting Arthur Sixpence to let us near the money we've been allocated for buying online resources and the deadline for the MLA's first national offer is breathing down our necks. Faced with missing out yet again and having to put up with more snide comments from the Audit Commission, not to mention staff and customers, T. Aldous has played a blinder and has managed to persuade the accountants to let us use some of another capital budget for this purpose.

      The trick now is to take advantage of this offer without letting Arthur off the hook (I'm damned if he's getting away with hanging onto that money without a fight).

      The Order of the Lack of Vivid Imagination

      For some reason, Human Resources take it on themselves to ring me up to find out why Jimmy Huddersfield hasn't sent in his staff sickness returns. I tell them that I've lost track how long Jimmy's been retired and ask why nobody had run up to ask why Mary had been including his staff in her monitoring returns lo these many months. Helminthdale Council's got one of the worst staff sickness records in the country. If Human Resources are always as on the ball as this I'm not bloody surprised.

      Monday, February 06, 2006


      Helminthdale's now got a new telephone system and as bad luck would have it Helminthdale Library's included in the system. The immediate consequence is that no external callers can get through to the council. The public ring us up, the 'phone apparently rings, and rings... and rings... but the person on the receiving end hears nothing. Brilliant.

      Friday, February 03, 2006


      There are times when I'm really sorry for T.Aldous. He's just had a 'phone call from Land & Properties to tell him that they've decided to replace the heating system in Catty Library at the beginning of March so he'll need to close the library for a few weeks.

      How the hell can you run a service like this? Dutch Bend was scheduled to be closed for a new roof at the turn of the year and it hasn't happened. We got three week's notice to close Tench Lane and now barely a month's notice of this one. We never know how many of our libraries are going to be open next month, let alone next year. Plays hob with service planning.

      Still, it's good for the cardboard box and packing tape industries.

      Thursday, February 02, 2006


      Not just me: just had lunch with a friend who tells me another story about Arthur Sixpence...

      He's involved in a big project my friend's responsible for. Things were getting sticky and unpleasant so my friend needed to talk to Arthur in the hopes that he might actually do something he'd been assigned to do about nine months previously. Eventually the shit hit the fan and Arthur rang my friend:

      "We need to have a meeting."

      My friend dutifully toddles along, thinking dark thoughts along the lines of "about bloody time, too." He sits down.

      "What's the problem?"

      asks Arthur. My friend starts explaining the general situation, working from notes to make sure he's not forgotten anything. Two minutes into this he turns to Arthur and asks a question. No answer.

      Arthur was fast asleep.

      Wednesday, February 01, 2006

      Any colour so long as it's green

      I've been trying to avoid getting involved in the decor for the new library at Noddy and the children's library in Milkbeck. I'm cornered by T.Aldous as I sneak past the photocopier. Carpets. He wants me to disagree with the choice of the staff at Noddy (which is easy: browny-puce. Blech!) I refuse to volunteer an alternative because

      1. The staff at Noddy are going to be the ones working in there.

      2. They'd crucify me.
      I wriggle like a worm on a hook but I will not suggest sea green. Just at the point where I am weakening I've saved by a telephone call. I've no idea why I'm inflicted with this particular problem but this time I'm grateful:

      "Can you come up and bring the caretaker with you?"

      "Why? What's happening?"

      "A lad's been sick in the reference library again."

      "Again? What's going on up there? This is the second lad who's been sick this lunchtime."

      "Oh no, it's the same lad. He enjoyed the experience so much the first time that he came back to do it again."