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

Friday, June 30, 2006


Typical. Close of play and just as I'm getting my coat on the 'phone rings. I was hoping somebody would be ringing back with some information I need on Monday. No such luck. It's someone from a call centre going through the script: "This is just a call about your free subscription to Computing Magazine. Please could you take a few minutes to answer a few questions so that we can renew your subscription..." And so it goes for half an hour, by the end of which I'm saying 'yes,' 'no' or Sans Fairy Anne at random, anything to get the damned thing over and done with. Of course I'm delighted to be getting home an hour later because I've missed my train.

I'm old enough to remember when annual subscription renewals took place once a year. And when reminders were sent by email with a link to an on-line form that you could do at your leisure when convenient and provide accurate answers.

If I get another 'phone call asking me to renew my annual subscription to Computing any time before Xmas I'm going to tell them what to do with their magazine.

The first in banquets, but the last in fight

I've been trying for weeks to find out who's authorised to sign software licences. I've had considerable success today: I've narrowed it down to two people, each of whom is happy for the other to do it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

How old *is* Ivy Benson?

A systems administrator's travails...

Last year we had the software auditors in and one of the security tests involved my being given a list of names by the auditor and him getting the security and password permissions for each person off me. I came to one name I didn't know. Being a trained scientist I assumed that this was the "control" and replied that I did not know this person. Apparently they'd been working at Catty Library for two months.

Being an awkward cuss, I've hung fire on asking Catty Library for her details for to be set up on the systems and I've waited to be told. Until today, nine months later. Before asking IT to set her up with a network account I checked up on the address list and found her name. This is a true exchange of emails, I promise:

Hi Hetty,

Is this the same Maisie Doakes who works/used to work in Planning Administration in the Town Hall?




She doesn't know.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I have been a stranger in a strange land

I've been asked why I've not written much of dear old Reggie Clockwatcher lately: "a barmpot of that calibre shouldn't be ignored!" True enough, but sadly the poor old thing is no longer with us. His post was deleted during the reshuffle and he was offered a retirement package that he would have been cutting his nose off to spite his face to refuse but which was designed more for dignity than renumeration. The one policy of self-censorship I impose on this blog is the discussion of individuals' personnel issues so I won't detail how the dignity was leached out in the process. Reggie may be an idiot but he is a well-meaning idiot and deserved better.

One of the other unhappy consequences of the reorganisation is personal uncertainty about jobs and roles as people find that large parts of the work they've been doing for the past decade are assigned to new posts as yet unfilled. This is made the more galling as great play was made of "keeping the staff who are affected informed," which involved getting all the Assistant Librarians in a room and telling them the new structure. The Assistant Librarians were the only people whose jobs weren't being fiddled about with in the process. One of my colleagues found that nearly all the work he'd been doing for the previous twelve years was now assigned to the post that sort of replaced Reggie. When he queried it he was told: "it's nothing to do with you: you'll be carrying on as you are now." Like he said:

"If that means I'll be carrying passengers being paid PO7 instead of PO3 then you can get stuffed."

At close of play one day after a month's worth of emails to T.Aldous and Harry Presto (the then head of service) and a couple of emails from the union, T.Aldous popped into my colleague's office.

"I'm starting to pick up the impression that you're not very happy about the reorganisation. I'm very sensitive that way."

"I'm bloody furious about the reorganisation and I'm pig sick of being told it's nothing to do with me."

"Well, as you know, I was on leave the week it was announced so I had nothing to do with it: that was all Harry's work."

Anyway, it got worse and worse, until it got to the point where he was working to his job description (an execrably sketchy thing written on the back of a fag packet by Shagger Noakes) just before the first of last year's inspections. What he describes as "a rolling temporary modus vivendi" was negotiated, though uncertainty still reigned. A combination of all that plus two years' worth of doing his job and a load of Reggie's in our wonderfully organised and supportive working environment finally got to him recently and he was off work for a bit over a month with stress. He'd been back less than a week when T.Aldous popped into his office and, inter alia, said:

"We need to get sickness levels down, they're still unacceptably high."

Afterwards, I asked him what he replied.

"Any response would have involved one or both of us being sectioned."

I guess that the causal relationship between poor personnel management and workplace stress levels don't figure highly in the library school curriculum.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

O land of manure and mist, of dirty, cold rain

A toddler in the children's library has had an accident, as children do, but unfortunately walked a lot of the resulting mess into the carpet and threw a few books into it. Mary and T.Aldous drop everything to review this outrage. As Seth gingerly donned his Marigolds and started putting soiled books into a bag Mary turned to Lola and said:

"You'll need to get the barcodes out of those books so that they can be withdrawn properly."

Monday, June 26, 2006

The glory of a firm, capacious mind

The council's doing a full-service salary review and, mindful that salaries can go down as well as up, the Counter Supervisors are a bit twitchy. Due to a series of quick-fixes to solve problems entirely created by management team the Counter Supervisors are theoretically doing the same job but have different job descriptions. And, as we've been missing one of the Group Librarians for three and a half years, the Supervisors at Dutch Bend and Catty have been having to cover a lot of their work. Consequently, any thought of a salary review based on job descriptions and custom & practice is made more nerve-wracking than usual.

Daisy Duck asked to see T.Aldous to have a chat about the situation.

"Is this to do with the fact that Julia's going to be moving over to be Group Librarian for your area?"

"That's another complicating factor I suppose."

"What you need to bear in mind, Daisy, is that Julia isn't me but I'm sure she could make a good job of it anyway."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dancing with my shadow

Off sick yesterday with chest pains (it's OK, I've had all the tests recently, my cardiovascular system's OK. Any time I see my doctor we have this conversation:

"Are you still in that job?"


"When will you do as you're told?"

and then he tries to persuade me to take a few weeks off work. I resist this as I know full well that there are four or five issues that have been droning on for years that 'would have been miraculously resolved' but for my absence. My last holiday coincided with the only window in the past five years for T.Aldous to make a decision about self-service circulation.)

I've been waiting a couple of years for the new council web site to come on stream. Yesterday, Lola got stuck with doing the mapping exercise for the library service's part of the site because the request for us so to do had been stuck in Mary's "unread emails" folder for the past few weeks and the deadline was last Monday. Lola had to teach herself the new Local Government Navigation taxonomy from scratch because I've spent the past three years trying and failing to get library service participation in the work I've been doing on e-government. She's done a good job of it in the circumstances but I feel childishly put out that having waited all this time I've not been involved in the doing of it, although I'll still be held responsible for anything that anyone doesn't like. Nothing changes...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tie up the knocker! say I ’m sick, I ’m dead.

Oh just what I need...

I arrive at work to find that all last night's overnight systems housekeeping crashed after a power failure in the council's server farm and on my keyboard T.Aldous has left a three-week old letter from a councillor complaining about the people's network and a note to say that the response needs to be sent by the end of today.

Roll on Christmas.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Courted by all the winds that hold them play

Overheard at the counter in lending:

"How come you've gone part-time Betty?"

"I'm old now, it takes me a longer time to have sex."

Monday, June 19, 2006

A tale told by an idiot

A couple of people have asked me if I've heard anything about the reports from any of last year's inspections. This puzzled me a bit as they've been on the inspectors' web site for a month. I passed on the link. About an hour later I got a 'phone call from Dutch Bend:

"Now I know why they've been keeping it a secret!"

"What do you mean a secret?"

"Well, when I asked T.Aldous the other day he said that the report wasn't ready yet. Mary said that they're waiting for the final report."

"But T.Aldous went down to London with Warner Baxter months ago to receive the report."

"Well, we're not supposed to know about it. So I've printed a copy out and put it in the staff room."

Only here could a document in the public domain could be regarded as a secret!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

With God on our side

We don't have any staff development or training strategy in this organisation. I'm thinking of putting together a page on the corporate intranet providing a list of useful online resources for our staff. So far I've come up with:
  • A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette for their professional development;

  • Dilbert so that they can understand the bigger picture; and

  • News of the Wierd so that they can keep tabs on co-workers.

    Early days yet but not a bad start.

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    Sandy deserts full of wild beasts

    In between quizzing staff to find out who's been organising birthday presents for him T.Aldous has been having a series of panicky 'phone calls (in the public arena because his 'phone's through to Tilly Floss who put her 'phone through to the Acquisitions team who work in the open-plan office). The panicky 'phone calls are all on the general theme that he knows there's a problem and somebody else caused it. Naturally, there's not much in the way of problem-solving. The reason is simple. I have to apologise for this metaphor: once it occurred to me it was inescapable...

    Imagine you've got a big, white living room with a big, white shagpile carpet. All white and clean and shiny and lovely. And you've got a great, big dog. Which takes it upon itself to stroll out into the middle of the carpet and empty its bowels thereon. What would you do?

    • Me, I'd get the dog out of the way, in case it had plans for a repeat performance, then I'd clean the mess up. Once all was done and dusted I'd then make it clear to the dog that this had't been a good career move.

    • T.Aldous would sit there and do nothing. If you came into the room and pointed out the mess (and smell!) he'd reply: "it's nothing to do with me, the dog did that."

    A dead waste of a shilling

    Bless him.

    In the end, all corners of T.Aldous' empire chipped in to his birthday collection with a rare generosity. Especially given that everybody's well aware that it's not a retirement present. This lunchtime he was presented with a fine card, some gift vouchers and a nice bunch of flowers to take home to his lady wife.

    He had a face like a slapped arse.

    "Thank you very much but I was keeping my birthday a secret."

    He's spent the last hour quizzing people to find out who organised the collection so that he could given them a bollocking.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Bereft isabellas in rubber thigh boots

    Frog, who is supposed to be in charge of such things, suggests alternatives to the "Messy monkeys" event:

    "How about 'top a toddler' 'nobble a nipper' or 'brain a brat'? "

    And it's not even the start of the summer holidays yet.

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    And nought is everything and everything is nought

    A quick review of the collection to date for T.Aldous' birthday gift. A bit embarassing really: Dutch Bend has collected £30; Catty £25 and Helminthdale £10. Embarassing because Helminthdale's got twice the staff as the others.

    The charitable explanation is that T.Aldous is based at Helminthdale which makes it difficult to put out a collection tin without his knowing about it.

    The realistic explanation is that T.Aldous is based at Helminthdale and has got on people's tits so much that they're keeping their hands in their pockets.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Surfin' safari

    One of my colleagues has been conned into doing an internet taster session in one of the branches as someone was off ill and has subsequently discovered, once he arrived, there is a "Messy Monkeys" event going on there. (Anything organised by Fluffyland has to have an alliterated title. They didn't like my suggestions of Kill a Kid or Shoot the S*ds)

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Ad quod damn 'em

    It's good to be popular. Looking up from my desk today I noticed that I had a queue comprising:
    • two from Fluffyland (Children's Unit);
    • the part-time, job sharing Web site manager who is not doing part-time, job sharing web site manager work as she has just returned from long term illness, precisely at the time her pay was about to be cut, but now has plenty of time to do nothing but annoy me;
    • next a dead ringer for Caroline Aherne "Mrs Merton" who has something to do with IT provison for the disabled, well she is supposed to manage it;
    • and finally my line manager was in the queue.

      Whatever happened to Geneva Convention? I confess, I started the Second World War, I have Hitler's genes, I was driving the car Diana waa killed in, I shot John F. Kennedy, I taught Lucretia Borgia all she knew about cooking, I was a script writer for Crossroads, tell me what else and I will confess.

      Saturday, June 10, 2006

      The clouds will soon roll by


      "Should we circulate T.Aldous' retirement card for people in the branch libraries to sign?"

      "He isn't retiring."

      "I know, but it might boost morale if people thought he might be."

      Friday, June 09, 2006

      Euphemisms, Audrey, euphemisms!

      Mary has a quiet word with me and Frog by the coffee percolator:

      "Could you spread the hint around to staff not to keep calling Management Group 'The Secret Society'? T.Aldous has got wind of it and doesn't like it."

      Fair enough I guess, though shutting the stable door as far as I can see. One of last year's inspectors asked me: "why do they call Management Group 'The Secret Society'?" I was so surprised I can't remember my response.

      Be careful what you wish for

      With the new recruits at Dutch Bend and Catty and their satellite branches they're now up to strength in lending. This should be good news, and will be eventually. At the moment, though, it's a problem as they're all falling over each other and not getting much more done than they were last autumn when they were virtually single-staffing the main libraries over lunchtimes. The reason's easy enough to see: they've been crisis-managing due to staff vacancies for about three years. Now they're able to do more than just run themselves ragged trying to keep the wheels on the wagon they're blinking like rabbits on a roadway wondering what to do next. It's always the way: if you've been desensitised enough your head only starts to hurt after you've stopped hitting it with a tea tray.

      Thursday, June 08, 2006

      Aurea mediocrities

      I'm picked up on the front desk/back office issue.

      "The front desk is more important. If we weren't there then there'd be no point in having anyone working in the back."

      The converse to that, of course, is that without somebody buying, receiving and distributing the stock then the libraries would be empty and the staff could all go home. This nonsense needs to be knocked on the head: there's no "us" and "them", they're all part of a team and if we want to deliver a half-way decent service in our libraries then we need both ends of the process staffed and working properly.

      One of the charges commonly levelled against Barry Trotter when he worked here a few years back was that he didn't "spend his share of time on the enquiry desk". Quite right too, I said at the time and say all the more now. What's the point of paying somebody principal officer grade to do an assistant librarian's job? Given the desperate need for any sort of proper management of the service we can't afford to waste what few management resources we've got.

      "When Garry Chevalier was in charge at Dutch Bend he wasn't above spending all day on the enquiry desk."

      No, but then again Garry wasn't above sliding attractive young female staff's payslips into the inside pockets of their blouses, whether or not there was a pocket there. I don't think he'll do as a paragon of public library management.

      Garry was part of the management team that in 1991 decided to completely cut the marketing budget. As Little Billy Liverwort told councillors: "if we publicise our services we might create a demand that we can't meet."

      Standing in the corner, nothing else to do

      One of the things that constantly irritates me about the library service is the systemic assumption that if anything's away from the public interface it must be
      1. Dead easy to pick up

      2. Not really all that important
      Today's illustration is in the Acquisitions team: there's a bit of spare capacity upstairs so they've sent a couple of people down again to "lend them a hand." Which is great in principle and almost certainly well-meant. Unfortunately, aside from printing out spine labels there's nothing that that team does that can be picked up and done without at least a few days' training. This could/should be possible if someone was assigned to lend a hand on a regular basis over a period of time (I'm saying could/should because knowing this organisation's attitude to staff training and development it isn't a given). Unfortunately, staff are sent down unannounced on an ad-hoc basis for an hour or two, which just adds to the stress overload of the team as they struggle to catch up with their work, cover long-standing vacancies, answer everybody else's 'phones and also try and find things for the lending staff to do.

      You couldn't mismanage it better: lending resources are wasted; willing and capable staff are made to feel useless; an over-stretched team is put under more pressure; and an unnecessary tension is built up between the two teams.

      Wednesday, June 07, 2006

      Daffodils in your gaiters

      A particularly fraught discussion upstairs in the main library. We're supposed to be putting a dozen new public terminals in the community room, partly to maximise the use of the room as a learning resource but mostly because someone got nervous about meeting the public library standard on the number of public workstations. We have the PCs. We have the network connections in the room. We have the network connections in the library. But we don't have the network connected as to do so we need the shopping centre's agreement to take the twelve cables across a seven-foot stretch of ceiling space just outside the library. The centre manager isn't authorised to give the OK, it has to be done by head office, which appears to be a black hole somewhere down south. So we're stuck and have been since last autumn.

      Today I'm called up to discuss where the PCs would be going if we could bridge the gap. The answer is the same place as every other time I've been asked, using the network points as a bit of a guide. And just like every other time I'm asked why the network points are in those locations. And just like every other time I remind T.Aldous that he decided that these were the best places to go once Mary and I convinced him that they'd fit.

      Then he tells me about the problems we had buying the PCs, of all of which I'm all too aware. Then he tells me about the problems with the shopping centre, ditto. Then the problems with the PC requisitions forms, ditto. Then the problems with some of the people in IT, ditto. Then he reprises the problems with buying the PCs and with the shopping centre's head office, ditto, ditto, ditto ad nauseum.

      I'm in the lift coming back down to my cellar office and about halfway down I hear a noise. It took me a few moments to register what it was: someone was screaming, a long, low, sustained scream. It must have gone on for two or three minutes. I was aghast: who the hell screams like that in a public library?

      It was me.

      Tuesday, June 06, 2006

      Thrills and spills on the gardener's lady

      Tilly Floss is throwing a wobbler:

      "I shouldn't have to do stationery. I'm not the stationery clerk. They shouldn't expect me to do other people's work."

      At which point her 'phone rang and everyone sat on their hands waiting for her to finally get round to answering it.

      Editor's note: Nobody else is stationery clerk either.

      Full of sound and signifying nothing

      Postscript to the Gypsy Cream drama: Mary's 'phoned Pansy to ask what she's doing putting copies of The Bookseller out for the public.

      Let the devil take the park attendant first

      High dudgeon at Gypsy Cream Library where local fusspot Mrs. Nattercan is raising Cain because Pansy Potter's moved the 10-year-old copies of The Bookseller off the Reference shelf.

      "I wouldn't mind: I've left the past six editions on the shelf and displayed them face on so that everyone could see that they're there. It looked horrible: ten years' worth of Booksellers spine-on in the middle of the library, neither use nor ornament."

      "Did anyone use them?"

      "No. I checked with the assistants who've been covering here for the past three years [the branch librarian retired last summer after being off sick for two years after doing her leg in after an accident] and they've never seen anyone use them. I've even put string along the top of the magazines to see if it's been disturbed by the end of the day. Zilch."

      "Does Mrs. Nattercan read it?"

      "No. She just doesn't like me changing the library."

      "Can I make a suggestion: rather than having an constant sniping war with Mrs. Nattercan every time to make small changes why not review everything that you want to do and then blitz the place and make big changes. That way you're not constantly battling with your more conservative customers and make a bigger impact."

      "I'll have to think about it. If I do big changes then you-know-who will stick his oar in."


      Monday, June 05, 2006

      Night and day? You are the one.

      A colleague in a media library sends me this. It's quite a lot like sending Coles to Newcastle.

      It's a crap job, in a crap place
      All the work is boring it's a disgrace
      It's no rat race, I'll be a mental case,
      That it's all shite to me.

      It's a crap chair, in the wrong style
      So I bought my own chair, it was worthwhile
      Feel I'm on trial, and I'm so versatile
      But it's all shite to me

      I can't say how happy I was to come here
      I can't say, because it's not true
      There's this stuff I'm trying so hard to forget
      Wouldn't you like to forget something too?

      It's the wrong sound with the wrong scripts
      Though your clips are tempting, they're the wrong clips
      Find the right clips, better get to grips
      But the day ends, I'm free
      Dear, it's all shite
      It's all shite to me.

      Saturday, June 03, 2006

      Pavement oysters

      We're coming up to T.Aldous' 60th birthday with the vexed question as to whether or not to have a collection for a card and a present coloured further by his announcement that he's not retiring this year after all.

      A cricket-loving colleague supplies an answer: Bill Frindle, the chap who does the scoring for Test Match Special on the radio, celebrated his 40th year in the job. His colleagues bought him a card but there was a slip-up and somebody got one with the message: "Sorry you're leaving." Perhaps we could do similar.

      "If we give him a "sorry you're leaving card" every birthday he might take the hint by the time he's 65!"

      Friday, June 02, 2006

      Is that cannon fire or is it my heart pounding?

      We've had wind of comments in one of last year's inspection reports:

      "Prioritisation and decision-making are either non-existent or based on crisis management. "

      Next week: the toilet habits of bears and the bouyancy of ducks.

      Thursday, June 01, 2006

      Icky the bare bum firewall bobby

      The council's email server is playing silly buggers again. No, scrub that: it's behaving exactly as you'd expect anything to do with Helminthdale to behave. None of us have been able to receive any emails from discussion lists for about six weeks. In the mean time, we're receiving dozens of spam emails for larger body parts; genuine imitation Rolexes at imitation genuine prices; gentlemen's pharmaceuticals; and weekly global updates from the Chief Executive.

      It isn't just us affected: none of the planning appeals are getting through the spam filter because the form includes the word "erection."

      Today we appear to have hit a crisis: everyone's email account seems to have gone AWOL: if you click on Outlook on your PC you get access to a pile of spam but none of your emails. A treat.

      Belshazzar's snatched cheese butty

      Frog's received the first parcel of Reading Mission goodies for the summer holiday Reading Challenge. He's especialy pleased to get to play with the secret message pens (the writing is invisble until you rub it with the other end of the pen). The sensible grown-ups amongst us wonder if the ink in the pens will last out to the end of term.

      "I'll be able to write rude things on the walls," says Frog.

      "I think the writing's been on the walls here for a while now," replies Noreen.