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

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Further details on enquiry sent under plain wrapper

I've been asked why I spent a week at the beginning of April knocking myself out to get stock and circulation statistics for CIPFA when staff have been used to doing manual shelf counts for years. Well...

A colleague in another authority once referred to a branch under his charge as a "rogue" branch. Suggestion was that everything that went wrong in the world, or anything happening without logical explanation, could be traced back to this single epicentre of the bizarre. It didn’t matter that a problem apparently resided elsewhere, after a few phone calls the true source could be discovered in this one location, this one insoluble problem. The real world, he claimed, ceased to be as the threshold of this particular building was crossed, and no matter how many times he explained a procedure it was always followed by strange conversations.

"Does this new procedure start next week or now?"

"This new procedure started fifteen years ago everywhere else."

"Oh well, I’m not sure we have the right stationary, the van hasn’t been yet this week has it?"

Worse still every instruction was followed by a question as to whether a red pen or blue pen was required for the task.

For a while this notion was lost in the mists of my mind, until I came to the conclusion that if a couple of my branches just happened to be Anne Robinsoned off as weakest links, I would have about fifty percent less of the proverbial fire fighting to do. This I considered to be more than my share of the rogue branch syndrome.

For example, a simple system report detailing which branches were most proficient at sending items into permanent transit, that is they either left or arrived at location months ago yet still carried the transit status, would highlight a disproportionate percentage at branch X.

Alternatively take an overview of the items with a "cannot trace for reservation" status and even the most myopic individual couldn’t fail to note that branch Y was doing something peculiar when 58 items were so set on the same day.

Of course explanation for these happenstances there is none as "we didn’t do anything, I’m not sure we know how to change the item status".

And then along came CIPFA. Now we all know that those who decide what form CIPFA returns take have a few beers, get drunk, take a few risks with exotic fungi and then decide what they are going to introduce as subtly different this year. A challenge they would probably call it, a bloody pain I would say. Previously well thought out solutions to the enigmas of times past become redundant. Add to this the non-obvious changes they make, the ones they hope we won’t notice until all forms have been completed, at which point it is blatantly clear figures don’t balance and you have to go back to the beginning. The cocktail formed by Mr. CIPFA and Mrs. Rogue-Branch produces son Molotov.

So come early March last year a carefully worded memo to all branches outlining the necessary procedures winged it’s way towards the unexpectant, prompting the inevitable from Rogue Branches.

"Do I have to count the books on loan?"

"Have you any idea how you are going to get the stats off the system to do that?"


"Well in that case how did you expect to count the items on loan?"

"I was going to use last years figures and alter them a bit."

"So we’ve paid a third of a million quid for a system which can count these totals and you want to make the figures up?"

"No one has complained before. And what do I do with the form once I have completed it? Oh and does it matter if I fill in the bits you have asked for with a red pen, or should I use blue?"

The result of this is that you discover the figures for rogue branch do not in any way match those of the last fully manual count, and you then spend ages trying to find reasons why within the system. Mind you, if they have been making up figures for the last twenty odd years is it any wonder there is no conformity between the two? And for reasons I will never understand it is Systems Librarian who has to explain why the system isn’t producing accurate data!

Rogue branch then have to cover themselves and find any excuse to knock the system which has mysteriously taken 2,000 books off their shelves, "and heaven knows what it has done to our issue total". This last because suddenly what was once a seemingly thriving centre of activity, with apparent staff shortages, becomes a much over-staffed establishment because someone else is creating more accurate measurements of performance than the previous imaginary.

You were asking...?

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