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

Monday, July 31, 2006

The covers of this book are too far apart

We've all just been issued with our official Helminthdale Stress Handbook for Staff. Much to our surprise it doesn't include any tips on how to create far more stress than anyone could ever need. Evidently there must be a official Helminthdale Stress Handbook for Managers with that sort of thing in it.

Having finally convinced a library assistant that she really needs to talk to somebody about the stress she's under she takes up a suggestion in the book and contacts the council's stress management hotline. Who tells her that she needs to be referred by her line manager.

Who happens to generate 80% of all the stress experienced in the building.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Horrendous problems with the People's Network. (Dog bites man)

Today's problems are caused by the internet security software which is generating error messages on the public terminals at a rate of two or three a minute. Each dialogue box you close generates at least two more in their stead. Eventually it gets so bad that the sheer volume of dialogue boxes crashes the network connection and the terminal fails.

Only in Helminthdale could an internet security system generate its own denial of service attack.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I walk through lending and find Seth the caretaker manning the counter.

"When's your job evaluation interview?" I ask.

"Last month," he replies.

"Did this feature highly?"

I ask as he issues some books to an old lady. His reply was commendably professional.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A prickly little soul mate

As milestones down the road to Perdition go this one's notable: Bronwyn Fazakerly, one of our most easy-going and professional branch assistants, has just had a stand-up row with Julia about a library assistant called Lizzie.

Bronwyn and Lizzie are working their socks off to get Tench Lane Library ready for re-opening p.d.q. (the library's been closed for repairs since January). Yesterday Lizzie turned up an hour early and instead of hanging round doing nothing until the official start of hostilities she got stuck in with the work. Acknowledging this, Bronwyn suggested that Lizzie leave half an hour earlier so that she can get the quick bus home instead of having to wait twenty minutes for the one that goes round the houses. Unfortunately, Julia bumped in Lizzie in the bus station. "What are you doing here?" asked Julia (Lizzie could fairly ask the same question as they work the same hours). Lizzie's explanation didn't satisfy Julia who called Bronwyn in for a bollocking this morning.

"I call the shots here, not you,"

says Julia. Splendid.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Carriage trade

Seth and Lemuel, the caretakers, are not happy bunnies. Two palettes' worth of kit has arrived here destined for the SureStart Resource Centre over in Cocinoco. Mary's told the boys that it all needs to be shifted over today as a matter of urgency.

"Why couldn't it have been delivered straight there?"

"There won't be anyone there."

As we don't have a forklift the only way to get it on the van is for them to break open the packing and lug the stuff on a box at a time. They then drive over to the Centre to find that someone's on site eight to five every day. When they get back they mention this to Mary.

"Well, I wanted to see what it looked like when it arrived anyway."

It looked like a couple of big cardboard boxes stuck on palettes. I hope that assuaged her curiosity.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Anyone remember Chocolate Yoyos?

Today's big mystery is: why is there a lone Jaffa Cake in the booklift and why has it been riding up and down in the lift all day?


An electrician's just called to install some new power points. He asked Seth where they were to go: he had no idea as this is the first he knew of it. He asked T.Aldous about it.

"It's up in the reference library, the reference librarians know where it's to go."

"Wouldn't have been a good idea to let me know about it?"

"Oh no, the reference librarians know all about it."

So there we are then: workmen report to the reference librarians and the caretaker does the enquiry desk. Never let it be said that we aren't keen to explore new ways of delivering the public library experience.

Beau Geste redux

Here's where we are staff-wise: Seth the caretaker's timetabled on the rota to do the enquiry desk for visually-impaired borrowers. It came as a bit of a shock to him to say the least.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

There actually is something more petty than petty cash

Priceless. As if we don't have enough problems just keeping the doors open T.Aldous sees fit to play divide-and-conquer and team disruption games again. Katie, the counter supervisor at Helminthdale, is phenomenally upset. Our Fearless Leader's told her that as she doesn't do the petty cash like the supervisors at Catty and Dutch Bend she's likely to be downgraded by the pay and grading review and that the only way to avoid this is for the supervisors to be rotated on a regular basis.

Utter crap.

As the petty cash is just one of a score or more time-consuming pootling little administrative jobs given to the supervisors it isn't much of a factor in the review and certainly not enough to treat that post any differently to those elsewhere in the Borough. And all of the supervisors are underpaid for the responsibilities laid at their door by largely irresponsible senior managers. All that rotating the supervisors would achieve would be a maximal disruption of the teamworking of the library front line.

Which would suit T.Aldous' mania for micromanagement just fine.

Friday, July 21, 2006

If I knew myself, I'd run away

I've been given the date for my job evaluation interview. I've refused to attend it as I've no idea what job it is that's being evaluated, mine being one of the posts that were jiggered about fundamentally during the restructuring a couple of years ago and, like so many others, any attempt on my part to try and get a rewrite of the job description has been stonewalled. As it is, I've got the original job description — yet another of Shagger Noakes' execrable back-of-the-fag-packet affairs — and sod all else. What larks, Pip.

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny

It's our turn for the smash-hit national pastime "Pay and Grading Review," a treat for all the family. Especially of those paid at too high a scale to have to join in. As for the rest of us we're helpfully reminded that the value of our salaries can go down as well as up. Good game, good game.

It turns out, we're told today, that we were originally slated to go through this process this time last year but T.Aldous cited problems with staff availability due to staff sickness (we're sick of him) and school holiday activities (but hey, we're only providing a front-line service to the public). It was subsequently postponed to some undefined autumn period but "I only found out in December that we were going to have it in February this year." Then "we had it rescheduled to September as that would be better for us but now for some reason it is going to be this month with Mary having the first of our evaluation interviews this morning."

So get this: we've had at least a year's notice of this happening, have won at least three postponements and have done absolutely sod all about preparing anyone for something which could have serious financial consequences for low-paid staff. The one consolation, I suppose, being that the library assistants are so badly paid there's nowhere to downgrade to.

In briefing those members of staff not having to staff the counter or enquiry desk or answer telephones T.Aldous spends half an hour telling us that none of this is his fault and listing the emails he's received on the subject from Human Resources, citing date and timestamps for that added touch of authenticity. He spends precisely no time whatever telling us what we need to be doing.

Could library assistants get together to make sure that they're singing from the songsheet and not accidentally doing themselves down by underestimating the value of the work that they're doing. Our Leader replies:

"They've got together at Dutch Bend and Catty but I don't know what's happening here."

How about support during the evaluation interviews?

"Your line manager will be in there with you. You could ask a union official to accompany you but they'll be too busy."

And then the classic:

"I'm only here telling you this because Human Resources wouldn't make more briefing sessions available this month."

And there was me thinking he was telling us because he's paid to manage the service and the staff providing it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

There are no winners, only survivors

That's torn it: I've just heard that our token Young Lady Library Assistant at Dutch Bend, Mitzi Thunderbird, has got a job elsewhere in the council. That puts the median age of staff in this library service back to 49.

Playing the loyalty card

Conversation between Daisie Mutterbucket and Our Glorious Leader:

"There isn't any career path for librarians in this authority."

"You can always go and work for another authority."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I should like to have a good epitaph

T.Aldous is still obsessed with "leaving this service in a better shape than I left it." Which is OK in principle, if risible in objective review. This is one reason why we'd hoped that our meeting an unlikely number of performance targets might have prompted his retirement. Not many of us are convinced that the trick could be repeated.

I think I'd settle for "Didn't do nearly as much damage as he might have."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The country where the Hot Fudge Brownie Blast isn't a video presentation

It could be worse here: a colleague elsewhere tells me that she's been told that she's not allowed to go on a training course because "you've been doing this work a while so there's no need." What particularly irks her is that the edict came from the chief accountant, not the chief librarian. Doubly irksome is that the chief accountant is being paid to do a full-time job but only works four hours a day, three days a week. Even we wouldn't stand for that!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Obvious, really

Maybelle Googly used to run the old Glass Road Library and has today started working at Helminthdale, taking up part of the Counter Supervisor job-share. (The job-share is a story in itself which I won't be telling here.) First day in the job, she's had the ten-minute introductory chat with her line manager, Julia; then the tour of premises and fire escapes with the caretakers; and now T.Aldous is giving her a lecture about the booksale. At least she'll know her working priorities.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A yearning for a past time or place

A long, long letter in this week's "Catty Examiner" from the chair of the Friends of Noddy Library calling upon the shade of Andrew Carnegie to smite the council from beyond the grave for daring to imagine that it might move the library from the present picturesquely-decrepit building into shared premises in the community centre 150 yards down the road.

Of course, they can't see that the options are to move the library and try and use the savings in premises costs to improve services locally or close the whole thing down and save a whole pot of money for the council and ease some of the strain on the library service's resources by having one less service point to resource and staff. I can't say that I'm entirely enamoured of the idea of moving the library into the community centre — they have strange ways — but I'm even less enamoured of closing this particular library as I think that even though it's generally underperforming there is scope for renewal.

I happen to know that that view isn't universally shared: this was one of the libraries in the frame for closure proposals earlier this year. I don't think it's on the final hit-list/wish-list that's currently being looked at by our local equivalent of the great and the good. In times like these it's a relief not to know who's on the chopping block.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An amiable weakness of human nature

Stock-editing again. If we didn't have stock-editing I don't know what we'd do for feckless confusion. T.Aldous, panicking about Public Library Standards and the fact that we are officially overstocked by about 50,000 items, keeps going around saying that he wants more stock editing to be done.

"It's essential that we get all the old and tatty books off the shelves: it helps us with our performance targets and it also makes the libraries look better. What's the point in buying lots of new books if you can't find them for old rubbish?"

So far, so fair. Unfortunately, he's also going around saying that none of the people who are available to do the stock editing should be doing it. A few of us have tried to gently make the point that the "professional" posts he says should be doing the stock-editing have been vacant for years and that perhaps these posts could do with filling. You might as well kick a carrier bag in a wind tunnel.

The latest to-do is at Windscape, where last year's inspectors tried to pick a copy of "The Gruffalo" from the shelf and accidentally removed three yards' worth of children's fiction which were packed together like sardines. Lola has removed one small box of children's fiction (as much as she could do in the half hour available to her this morning) and there are already complaints about the library being denuded.

"Are we being lined up for closure again?"

asks an assistant.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The polar bear's pyjamas

Throwaway line in a conversation with someone from corporate IT:

"By the way, has anyone told you that we won't be letting your customers save to disk on the People's Network?"


"Oh, right. They probably forgot. Not to worry."


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Thinking is but an idle waste of thought

I'm peculiar as although I work in a public library I think that cataloguing's quite an important function. To my mind if we can't be bothered to tell the public what we've got and where to find it why should the public be bothered to hunt it down and use it? This used to be one of Jimmy Huddersfield's many unsung duties before his retirement and his lack of replacement is reflected in the amount of non-fiction stock awaiting classification backstage at Helminthdale. For once we are swimming with the tide: a colleague tells me that their cataloguer had been replaced by the head of service's personal assistant (the new head of service having decided that he wanted his old PA to come along with him), but had proved such a bad choice for the job that she was moved to a new post running a project digitising the library's special collections. After six months, the total throughput is one photograph (which is an improvement on her throughput as a cataloguer) and she spends most of her time writing her Rotary Club newsletter and running copies of it off on the laser printer.

One of the things I can never get my head around is that librarians — who make such a big deal of being 'professional' — don't set much value to the skills they learn at library school but imagine that their library qualifications automatically make them top-notch generic managers.

Monday, July 10, 2006

His baroque attire may not only interest but even delight the observer

Personnel management: a small master-class...

Senior manager to backstage member of staff who has just won an argument by quietly demonstrating that the senior manager doesn't know what he's talking about, saving a three-figure sum in the process:

"You really must learn to smile more at work. I've been getting a lot of complaints about it lately."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sophisticated boom boom

A colleague is visiting the States:

"All the non-fiction books on the news stands have titles like: 'Being Growly: how Fred Bloggs is ruining the country by being an utter tosspot and his friend Alan's a bit of a wanker, too, and his dog's got bad breath and he drives a shit car.'

"Good to see that it's not only our library service that hasn't found its way out of the school playground yet."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Heaven only knows

Frog's in high dudgeon. He's been trying to finalise the arrangements for the summer holiday activities (it's delayed in part by his being off ill a while; part by pressure of work which is getting silly; and part by his spending so much time trying to get permission to buy some book tokens to give the winners of the Easter Egg Competition ). Just at the point where he knows what's happening, where, and that he's got the wherewithall to do it, T.Aldous chucks a spanner in the works: there has to be three holiday activities at Mattressbrook, despite the fact there's been no library at Mattressbrook for years.

"It's politically sensitive," says T.Aldous.

I expct the fact that Mattressbrook will consequently have one more holiday activity than any of the main libraries and two more than most of the branches and will contribute nothing towards any of our targets will register not one blip politically.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Doing the numbers

A friend's just got a new job in another library authority. As always, there's lots of talk beforehand about all the challenging and exciting things that he would be expected to do in that post. Turns out that the first challenging and exciting thing he's going to have to do is find some way of addressing a hole in his equipment budget that's equal to what he had to spend on equipment in his old job over the past four years.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's easier to cry

I get a 'phone call from Henry Kendal, who's filling in for Arthur Sixpence while he's off sick.

"We've got a £10k project from last year that really needs signing off. Do you intend doing anything about buying any online services?"

Monday, July 03, 2006

Not poetry, but prose run mad

It turns out that the reason why I can't get the dead PC on the counter replaced is that "according to our records this PC was replaced in 2002." As so often before, I point out that that PC has sat on the counter since 1999 and I'd be very interested to know what it was replaced by.

Obviously The Great Stock Inventory which IT required of us at the beginning of the year was an utter waste of time.