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

Saturday, September 30, 2006

With my shovel and my pick and my lamp and little wick

I once went down a coal mine. It took considerably less time than it takes our lift to go up two floors. It's this slow so as not to frighten old dears who may worry that they are falling to their doom. Instead they panic that they'll never escape the damned thing. Today it's playing up: as well as being phenomenally slow it's shuddering about like a jelly in a hurricane.

I mention it to Seth the caretaker. Apparently the nylon casing's worn off one of the wheels on the cabin. The engineer says its safe but needs replacing for a smooth ride.

"Should we let people use it?" Seth asks.

"It's up to you," says the engineer.

"It's up to you," says T.Aldous.

Which in both cases means: "whatever happens, you're to blame."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Imagine me on the Maginot Line

Up until a couple of weeks ago I was really looking forward to getting on with the Library Service's contribution to the new council web site, with lots of plans ready for getting the existing stuff online plus a range of new reader development resources.

A fortnight is a long time in Helminthdale. None of the child-centred stuff is being allowed on; the reader development material falls outside the editorial guidelines; the results of our local studies digitisation project are going down the pan; and the stylesheets make things like the Mobile Library schedule pretty unreadable. And I'm engaged in trench warfare in the hope that I can stop the Press Unit's wrecking the web catalogue.

Fuck 'em. I'll do enough to fulfil our obligations for e-government. For anything more clever we'll need to work in collaboration with other organisations and have the results hosted on their sites.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A chorus girl went fishing

Trying to get some after-hours work done when to my horror himself appears, armed and ready to talk at length about the auditor's report again. Just as he takes a breath the 'phone goes. It's Daisy with a problem with one of the PCs which isn't closing cleanly. T.Aldous hates hanging around waiting for people to finish 'phone conversations so off he goes. The problem's sorted pretty quickly, I notice that he's gone to mither Mary, I put my coat on and do a runner.

With one bound he was free!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


One of the girls in the Acquisitions Team is deaf. As the team's generally assumed to be the people answering everyone else's 'phones they try to make sure to arrange that somebody else is around to cover that function. A neat trick given how few of us there are backstage. Today, for once, the arrangements fall down for an hour or so because of hospital appointments and meetings off site. Which doesn't stop our senior managers and Tilly Floss putting their 'phones through to the Acq. Team for the afternoon. Sigh...

Drowning by numbers

We might not be having our accounts qualified after all: apparently, our supplying the issue figures for the Mobile and for Roadkill Library should do the trick.

Don't try and work it out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I wish I was back on the farm

The Press Unit is seriously getting on my wick. Now they're demanding that we (I) remove unspecified "superfluous links" from our web catalogue. In the name of branding.

Bad enough that the IT Department dictates so much of our service provision. If we're at the stage where the Press Unit tells the Library Service what services it should be providing to its customers we may as well all go home.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I always get to bed by half-past nine

There are so few of us backstage these days that invariably one or more of us end up working late to try to catch up with work undone. And invariably one or other of us has that attempt foiled by T.Aldous' coming along and talking at us until we see a bright light and start hallucinating. This evening's a rare opportunity: himself is out of the building. Mary and I are heads down to our tasks when Julia comes over.

"What time did he say he'd be back?" she asks.

"Round about now," answers Mary.

There followed an unseemly rush to clock out and leave the building.


Every day's a revelation. I've been working here 13 years and only today do I find out that every waste paper bin in the building has a typewritten card taped to its underside to say whose bin it is.

Friday, September 22, 2006

That'll do nicely sir

There's Clement the Mobile Library driver filling up the tank for the day's lurching round the backstreets of Helminthdale. He goes to pay and finds that the council's petrol payment card's no longer acceptable. We have a whip round and send the hat over to the garage. Why is the card no longer acceptable? Mary rings the transport section to find out what's going on. Apparently the council's got a contract with a different company and it starts today:

"You should know about it love, I sent an email to some folk about eight or nine months ago."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The mountain comes to Mahomet

Yet another car window broken in the car park at Senebene Library. That makes the third in as many weeks. T.Aldous' solution is firm and simple: he tells the caretaker to collect all the stones and bricks from round the library and send them to Helminthdale.

Perhaps we're going to have a rockery.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Setting an example

They're working on some activity sheets for the children's library when I overhear this exchange between Mary and Tina:

"Tina, I don't think we should be using this picture. Don't we have a picture of a burglar who isn't smoking?"

"What for?"

"Well, I don't think it sets a good example to the children."

"So breaking and entering people's houses and stealing things is a good example?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Continuing the ceaseless fight against literacy and good taste

I have a conversion with the Press Unit, who have overall control of the new web site as part of the Corporate Branding Initiative. All goes awkwardly OK as we reach a modus vivendi in principle about the fact the Library Service (i.e. me) intends continuing to use the web site as a means of service provision and not merely a promotional information tool. Primarily because I've given up the fight and I'm resigned to the fact that I'm going to lose most of the good stuff on the current site. Then it gets nasty: I'm told I've got to dismantle the Library Catalogue and rebuild it to fit in with corporate branding. I politely decline.

What is it with this council? It took four years to get IT to install the system; IT keep telling us that the Catalogue should only include books; and now the Press Unit are telling us that we have to pull it to bits and take out all the stuff customers and inspectors have said that they like. Next time some bloke from a quango takes us to task for not doing this, that or the other online we should make these idiots take the rap. I'm sick of being held accountable for the decisions of these people.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Lovely start to the week: "training" on the council's new content management system, which consisted of two hours' worth of increasingly convoluted non-explanation of the National Local Government Navigation Scheme taxonomy and long-winded but unilluminating discourses on information to the public but no information as to how to work on the council's new content management system. As I've been working on e-government for the past five years and was one of the people who worked on the spec. for the CMS this was a bit of a waste of my time. Especially as I've spent donkey's years working with information systems including the best part of a decade working on information systems (not IT systems) for council one-stop-shops.

After half an hour I was mentally bouncing off the walls. An hour later I had an epiphany: this must be how librarians feel when they have to deal with me. I'm almost but not quite sympathetic.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Up in the air and down in the dumps

A colleague shares an internal email:


I've had several folks report hearing phone calls to elevators over the last few weeks.

The elevators have emergency phone lines so you can call out in case you're stuck in an elevator.

The phone lines are set up so that the monitoring company can call you back if they get disconnected.

So, if someone else happens to dial that number, they're going to get to talk with whatever random staff member happens to be in the elevator at that time... annoying the poor staff member and confusing the heck out the person who's calling.

I wasn't terribly worried about this because the phone lines for the elevators aren't part of the (number) groups, so folks aren't going to get transferred to them accidentally by us.

Unfortunately, the $#*%&(*#&$% phone company has messed up. If someone calls Directory Enquiries and asks for this library, they're given the phone number for one of those elevators! Argh. I've got a call in to the phone company to fix the problem.

And it's an hour before I can go drink some lunch. :(

More when I know more.

You can just about get two vests in a turnip

We're having our accounts qualified by the Audit Commission because when we did our annual submission for the Chartered Institute for Public Finance & Accounting we didn't include a separate figure for the book stock for the Mobile Library. We didn't because CIPFA didn't ask for it and don't want it but that's not good enough for the auditors and so the council will lose some of its central government finance next year. (This is the Audit Commission, the one that nods through multi-billion pound cost and ten-year-plus time overshoots of defence projects and Health Service IT programmes.)

Colleagues in London are having their accounts qualified because they couldn't say how much of the stock available on 1st April 2006 had been overdue at some time or another in 2005/6 (eh?).

Madly enough, a colleague elsewhere in the north of England has discovered that the numbers in their submission were made up by his predecessor; and their figures were accepted nem. con. by their auditors!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's no good, Alice, we'll have to lay off the lettuce

We're all getting to that age now. Between us we've had a spate of funerals of friends or relations and many of us are concerned for the well-being of the elderly and infirm amongst us. Every so often the pressure gets to us and we either explode or get ill, or both. Poor old Frisby Dyke at Dutch Bend is a case in point: both his parents haven't been too clever lately and his mum's just had a hip operation. Pile on top of that the pressure that he and Daisy have been under with T.Aldous' constant meddling at that library and it's no wonder he's not so good himself. Even T.Aldous has noticed: after a particularly bitter argument in today's staff meeting he pulls Frisby to one side for a talking to.

"You're not looking too well Frisby. I know you too well: you're not eating properly. I've got two bananas in my briefcase that you can have."

Well meant but bizzare.

Lydia, oh Lydia, have you seen Lydia?

Lunch time in the staff room and they're comparing their tattoos, or at least those ones on body parts that can be shown in the staff room. One of my friends often wonders how all these young girls with tattoos will fare in later life when their skin is less elastic. Well I know now. It has to be said that the onset of bingo wings brings a certain abstraction to even the most clearly delineated image. Common sense prevails and I don't ask if it's Elvis or Frankie Howerd.

I remember the days, not so long back, when the only people who had tattoos were sailors and war criminals (well that's how they always identified them in the movies; must have been a major drawback to their incognitos, like burglars having to wear stripey jumpers and carry bags marked "swag"). I've come to the conclusion that half the women I work with used to be in the Merchant Navy. Thank God they're not likely to be reading this!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Insincerity of purpose

I'm in a meeting with staff from other library authorities to discuss a collaborative project and none of us have the power or authority to commit to any action because none of us are the people who should be there. Some are first reserves for people who are off sick or on leave. Others, like myself, are covering vacancies. And then there's Debbie Potterthwaite:

"Looking forward to your new job Debbie?"

"Yes, it should be good."

"When's your last day?"


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Court jesters of the Apocalypse


"I'm right fed up. Give us some good news."

"We're all going to die."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Icing on the cake

Urgent meeting with the architect dealing with the new site for Roadkill Library. By pure happenchance T.Aldous blundered into a site meeting last Thursday and was told that the job's nearing completion and when are we moving the books in? This was news to T.Aldous, and the rest of us. Especially when he heard what the architect imagined "nearing completion" to be.

By now I have enough experience of these matters to know that T.Aldous' usual communications problems notwithstanding the blame will lie entirely with the architects. The meeting is the usual miscellaney of surprises.

The plan bears no relation to any of the plans for this library we've seen at any time over the past two and a half years. "What's that?" asks T.Aldous. "That's the worktop for the computers," answers the architect.

"What worktop?" Turns out he's decided that the only full working wall — where we'd quite like to have shelves for books, etc. — would be taken up by a worktop "like the one at Sheep City." That particular worktop is a long, ply-and-formica fixed work bench that has the ugly utilitarian look of the benches we had in the chemistry labs at school back in the sixties. As well as being ugly and inflexible it also cost a four-figure sum (how???) We gracefully decline the suggestion, me suggesting off-the-shelf desks for the PCs and T.Aldous suggesting a library design company for the library design. We further disgrace ourselves by insisting that the electricity points are distributed more usefully in the room rather than all being clustered around where the architect has decided that the counter's going to be (and won't be if Himself has any say in the matter).

"It's a bit late to be making changes like this," says the architect.

"The library has to be functional or we can't move in," replies T.Aldous.

Afterwards T.Aldous has a completely justified rant about the stupidity of the situation and our always having to work in the dark up to the point of the last minute panic. Sadly, he cannot take the next step and recognise that this way of working isn't good within the library service either. Ah well...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Time management

I don't have any particular story about time management to stick here. I just needed to confirm that the phrase actually exists and wasn't just a figbox of my imagination.

A flood of lyric melody

Euterpe works her magic again (see: it isn't all lavatories)...

(Apologies to HMHB)

When it gets hot
You'll never guess what:
I've got Library Service Management.
When the shit hits the fan
And I'm carrying the can
I've got Library Service Management.
I've got Library Service Management.

Oo-ooh, last-minute decisions.
Oo-ooh, thinking on your feet.
Ambushed more than three times daily
By my Library Service Management.
By my Library Service Management.

Have you just heard
I haven't heard a word
From my Library Service Management.
No matter what you ask
Reply’s a no-no task
For my Library Service Management.
Oo-ooh, try and guess your work plan.
Oo-ooh, if you get it wrong
You're left holding the tar baby
By my Library Service Management.
By my Library Service Management.

[guitar riff and book sale]

Aimless drift and stagnant flow.
We’ve got Library Service Management.
No new blood when old folk go.
We’ve got Library Service Management.
Talk to the wall, talk to the wall!
We’ve got Library Service Management.
Bash, bash, bash, bash!
We’ve got Library Service Management.

Oo-ooh, tied up, gagged and helpless.
Oo-ooh, mushroom-managed mess.
We’ve been stitched up like a kipper
By my Library Service Management.
By my Library Service Management,
Management, management, management, management….

My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf
So Point Eight were asked for some plans
By my Library Service Management.
By my Library Service Management.


Reet petite and gone

We bid farewell to yet another member of staff. Bosko Huckaback's going off to work in a school library. His departure wasn't without incident: having established with Personnel that his period of notice started at the point he gave Julia the nod verbally he was a bit dischuffed to find T.Aldous sticking his oar in and insisting that nothing could be done untile he'd received the notice in writing. Strangely enough this wasn't one of the instances when T.Aldous sat on the reference for a month or more.

Bosko and Julia have had a stormy relationship. Which might explain why a book on employee relations appeared on the staff room table. I thought no more about it until I opened it up and read the inscription:

"To Bosko, Merry Christmas,
Love from Julia"


Friday, September 08, 2006

A reassuring idiom of melancholy

Crumbs: it's Pansy's turn to be off sick with stress. Three other branch assistants and at least two library assistants are under the doctor with stress-related problems, at least three others should be but are "being brave" and I'm hanging on by the tips of my fingernails myself.

Good to know the ship's on an even keel.

Captain of the space ship

I've upset Himself. I emailed everyone to tell them not to email visitor stats to Jessie as she's left. I also said that I'm not doing anything with the stats as all year I've been trying and failing to get a decision as to what needs doing.

"Kevin, why have you sent this before asking me? This is unacceptable."

"As you haven't replied to any of my questions about this there didn't seem any point. The whole subject is unacceptable."

"Emails need to be sent to Jessie's PC for continuity."

"Sending emails to Jessie won't send the statistics to that PC."

"Your whole tone is unacceptable."

As I was busy mucking out the debris after Wednesday's system crash (while I was on leave my non-existant oppo did a lousy job of preventing a simple server crash becoming a wholesale corruption of the borrower file) and he'd also just dumped a load of auditor's questions in my lap I thought my tone was quite reasonable in the circumstances.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

You've got something there

This is fun and might help some of our staff cope with the later 20th Century: http://www.blyberg.net/card-generator/

Now we just need a virtual closed-stack-access reference library with a virtual windowledge for to keep the virtual catalogue cards on.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Soldiers in skirts

My mentioning the knocking shop on Creamery Lane reminds a colleague of a story about when he was working in the Tourist Information Centre a few years back:

"One day a gentleman came into the Centre and asked where he could 'find a lady to show him round town.'

"As it happens a Blue Badge lady was within hearshot and offered her services. The gentleman's humming and hawing made it very clear that he didn't want to be shown the highlights of the town's historical sites by a lady in her late sixties. We tried to intervene and explain the situation to her as politely as we could but she wasn't to be deterred.

'He wants a bit of female company,' we said.

'Well what am I if not company?' she replied.

"Eventually we made it extremely clear what was actually involved ("have you been medically screened, lass?"). She cast him a look that could curdle the milk in the cow and stalked off.

"My colleague rang a drinking friend in the local cop shop and they suggested directing him to Creamery Lane. We didn't tell the Blue Badge lady, just in case she decided to include it on her itinerary."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Count your blessings and smile

Himself is mithering all the libraries for their visitor statistics for August. "These are needed urgently. Send your statistics to Jessie and Kevin," he tells them.

Dead waste of time: Jessie left last week and I've no intention of doing anything with them. Still, a bit of urgency's always good in these exciting times.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Let's have a ride on your recycle

We're told that local authorities are taking recycling of waste Very Seriously in the light of government targets, landfill taxes and the like. Barely a week passes without someone hectoring the general public about it. I'm all in favour: all my organic waste gets composted and put into the garden and I lug carrier bags full of bottles and cans a mile and a half to the local recycling centre because the council's recyclable waste collection service is rather a lot less than perfect. Even so, I do get browned off with the strident stuff coming from local government, especially knowing what really goes on backstage...

If you think about it public libraries do generate a huge amount of waste paper. As well as the usual detritus you'd expect from any local government department there are old newspapers and magazines, telephone and trade directories, and of course the books that don't get shifted in our interminable booksales. What do we do with them? We send caretakers down to the local supermarket to dump the waste paper and newspapers in the recycling bins there and hope that nobody sees them do it because we'd then be fined for dumping trade waste. We bin a lot of the rest but seem to have to hang onto the tatty old books ad infinitum. We don't directly or officially recycle our waste paper because we can't afford the fee that the council charges its own departments for the collection. The fee is set exhorbitantly high so that the engineering department of the council can claw back some of the money lost in penalty charges for not meeting the targets for recycling waste.

And thus does local government work.

Five thousand deckchairs were removed and used as evidence

I'm approached by T.Aldous:

"I told the staff at Senebene to take a daily note of the number on the visitor counters as it's evident from the downloaded spreadsheets that the counter isn't recording any figures. Beryl's sent me the figures but something's not right: every day the figure's 1559. Can you find out what's going on?"

"Perhaps the counter isn't recording any figures so the number isn't changing."