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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Smiling and laughing and looking so fine I don't think you knew you were in this song

Pansy Potter's moving from Epiphany to Gypsy Cream Library, opposite the football ground. (Did I remember to tell you about the ducks in the car park?) When we were talking the other day I suggested that we do a stock check some time soon as there's stuff on the catalogue that I'm praying isn't there any more. She rings:

"You know all that old rubbish you thought hadn't been withdrawn properly and needs taking off the catalogue?"


"It's here!!!"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Charlotte Green reads the Shipping Forecast for gentlemen of a certain age

I pop into Dutch Bend to reinstall the PCs and check up on the visitor counters (gah gah gah gah gah!!!)

Absent-mindedly I put my hand on the top of a shelf to steady myself as I mess around with a network point. The top of a 1970's wood and slat steel shelf unit holds just over a pint of water.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

One o'clock jump

Seth's down at Dutch Bend helping to put up the last of the shelving and the counters and the buckets to catch the water from the new heating pipes because the caretaker there has slipped a disk trying to move heavy furniture around busy workmen while T.Aldous is on the hurry up. The man himself turns up to view progress. Just at the point where Seth is up to his armpits in a dodgy skeleton that may become a double-sized shelf unit T.Aldous says:

"You need to change the clocks now. People won't know what time it is."

It was suggested that it might be time to go.

Winter's discontent made glorious

Well I'll stand stuffing. The Acquisitions team have done it.

Just at this point another thirty-nine boxes turn up: a last-minute panic order by Mary. Non-fiction for Noddy. T.Aldous sourly surveys the scene (he hates piles of boxes that aren't book sale), tuts and tells the team: "Well, it had to be bought now. It can't be helped," and walks off. None of us have the first idea what he's on about.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Putting up a hook to hang my hopes upon

Desperately tidying up the catalogue prior to digging out stock statistics for CIPFA next weekend when T.Aldous tools up.

"We haven't withdrawn enough books. Can you do something about it?"

If I had a budget I'd hire a skip.

Sturm und drang

The carpet fitters have finished at Dutch Bend, after T.Aldous stuck his oar in about the best way to move the shelves and counter out of the way. The staff are now under pressure to get the shelving put up and restocked p.d.q. so the first lot of boxes of books arrived back from Pantagruel Library this lunchtime. Unfortunately, the carpet's not settled yet and the heating workmen are still working on the valves the only place to put the boxes is where the counter should go. Once the boxes are on the shelves the counter can go back. Except that the counter's in the way of the shelves.

Daisy Duck rings T.Aldous and begs for no more boxes to come back to Dutch Bend yet while they get sorted out. Seth's just rung to let her know that T.Aldous has told him to pick up another vanload.

"We need to have the library re-opened as soon as possible. There are too many boxes of books lying around in libraries," says God.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Jumpers for goalposts

Two libraries closed and their staff available for to provide cover and there's just one member of staff in the lending library in the main library here in Helminthdale.

Julia tells the caretaker not to open the doors until she says so.

"It's late now and they're queueing at the door!"

"I don't care. Wait until I tell you."

"What if they start banging on the door again?"

"Ignore them."

An excellent way of ensuring visitor figures and customer satisfaction soar ever skywards.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Say, does anyone know how to Madison?

The heating pipes and new boiler have been installed at Dutch Bend, though not actually commissioned. This is the point at which T.Aldous insists that the carpet fitters get into the library to lay carpets around men in big boots and dripping heating valves.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bottleneck sweater

A long T.Aldous monologue ends with him saying

"And there just aren't enough people around, especially with Julia off sick and Mary on leave..."

I was just about to sympathise when I remembered that there aren't enough people because he's left one management post vacant for three years and another two vacant for twenty-one months.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mood indigo

Someone in Helminthdale's lending library has locked the password again. The password changed yesterday but nobody told anyone who's in today and God alone knows what effort is made at recording these things for staff information. I get the password unlocked and pass the word. It's now locked again; someone new came in at lunchtime and blah blah blah...

Julia rings Mary to find out when the password was changed as she knows nothing about it (why Mary should when Julia's in charge up there I do not know).

"Can you have a word with Julia about this password?" asks Mary.

"I can have a number of words with Julia about this password," I reply.

"Don't worry, you're busy. I'll deal with it."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Light, power & speed

I have to squeeze my way past 56 boxes of incoming books to get to my desk. Last year T.Aldous claimed that the reason why we only bought 62% of the standard target stock was because of vacancies in the Acquisitions team. They were very, very offended: the real reason was because T.Aldous froze the book fund until August while he dicked about with ideas about targetting the spending that never got any further than glimpses of godly notions. So they're damned if he's getting away with it again: even with two posts vacant for a year or more and another for six months the team (both of them) are determined that the service is going to meet the standard and in so doing demolish another of T.Aldous' pet excuses: "if the standard could be met last year with just two of them left in post, why aren't you on target this year?"

The plan involves receiving more than 20% of this year's stock in the next two weeks. Good trick if they can do it!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Unpage the colours!

Deep joy.

As if we don't have enough to worry about, T.Aldous has decided that seeing as how Dutch Bend is closed for big plumbing we can get a new carpet in, too. We know it's going to be Sage Blue but by gum will we waste a lot of time getting there. Sigh...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A place of delightful prospects

I'm in the lift with Seth. He says:

"Has anyone told you the printer's been stolen from Epiphany?"

"No. When?"



"Thought you'd like to know."

"Yes, I suppose so."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

You only busk when it's Xmas

T. Aldous is giving Daisy Duck a hard time for letting two library assistants from the same library have the same day off. No matter that the staff covering the absence will both have worked there recently, know what they're doing and are extremely capable. No matter that long-standing vacancies mean that you can't predict where any two members of staff anywhere in the Borough will be three days running. Oh no. As T. Aldous explained:

"What would happen if it were Christmas? You need to think before you act."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rumour in cuneiform

Spring is in the air... the daffodils are starting to show yellow in the fields; the mistle thrushes are at it like knives in the cherry trees in next door's garden; and rumours are skittering around the consequences of the proposed library closures which nobody's actually seen and nobody will admit to but which we all know about one way or another.

Unlike the old days, even if the council actually did agree to close any libraries (and sentiment aside it needs to close at least four) it isn't as easy as them going for the line of least resistance; or putting one in the eye of the opposition party; or holding a grudge against a library assistant who wouldn't let you off the charge for a lost book because you're a councillor. The council's committed to trying to meet as many public library standards as possible (because of their commitment to the public service ethos in general and the public library agenda in particular and nothing to do with meeting audit commission targets or getting ticks in boxes to make sure the Rate Support Grant comes in sweetly), so the opening hours; book loans and visitors lost in the cuts have to be made up elsewhere. So it makes sense to finally let go of libraries which are in terminal decline and reallocate their resources someplace where they could be used. Like having all the branch libraries open in the afternoon to get the after-school trade. Needless to say, this being Helminthdale this won't happen in a million years but you can dream.

The latest rumour is that there'll just be five "superlibraries" in the Borough delivering services the like as you could barely conceive. The day that Helminthdale has the money, political will and project management skills to conceive and deliver five superlibraries they'll find the Pope singing bawdy songs atop a Belisha beacon in a backstreet in Irlam.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Paper chases

A chat with Liz at Gunsmoke Avenue Library amuses me. She's taken to buying the newspaper for the library herself, having given up with the newsagent.

"I'd keep having to chase him for an invoice so that we could pay it. In the end he said to me: 'can you do me an invoice?' So I wrote one and he lost it. I did another and he forgot to submit it. I did lists of the papers and magazines we'd had off him, including the dates and prices, and he kept losing them. In the end I gave up. Forty-five pence a day is worth it for not having to make lists up for him."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Life just kissed you "hello"

Betty Comstock, who's old enough to know better, was wearing a low-cut blouse at the counter today. She leant forward to hand some books to a little lad who turned to his mum and said:

"Mummy... Why has that lady got a bum on her chest?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Milky drinks and Sudafeds

Daisy Dormouse, the reference librarian from Dutch Bend, collars me.

"Is it true that we're getting some more PCs?"


"That's ridiculous. How are we to cope with any more PCs?"

As half of their time is spent dealing with people who want to get onto the People's Network, find all the PCs in use and then complain or book a later session or both I should have thought it would be a bit of a help.

And if we were to act on January's reference use survey which confirmed that 73% of all references used by the public were on the shelves behind the counter and had to be asked for then the reference librarians would have the time to do a bit more than just be glorified cybercafe receptionists and checkout girls.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I used to keep wickets for the Quakers in my Joy Division oven gloves

A colleague reminds me of the old joke:

An artist, a designer and a council architect are at a bar and they get talking about women. The artist pipes up:

"I tell you, woman must have been created by an artist: who else would have created such beauty?"

"Ah no, woman must have been created by a designer: who else would have created such form and function?"

"No, you're both wrong. Woman was created by a council architect."

"How do you make that out?"

"Who else would put a recreation area next to a sewage outlet?"

In church hall if wet

T. Aldous' turn for Noddery: he turns up at the Community Centre for a site meeting about the new library there and finds an art class in the room but no architects. Turns out they forgot to come to the party.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I used to be a babysitter but there's not much call for squashed babies these days

The people counter dash takes me to Noddy, first of four stops for the day. It doesn't go well. To begin with, the equipment for transferring the data from the counter to the staff PC, where it is turned into a useful spreadsheet, is missing. No big deal, the kit was installed in the midst of last autumn's mad extravaganza and like as not has been tidied away somewhere fatal. Happens all the time: the way things drag on around here it's a constant wonder that we ever find anything. As it happened I had another library's kit on me so's I could demonstrate how to do the monthly count. It goes downhill from here...

"Isn't it wireless? What's the point of that? I may as well just make a note of the number on the counter."

is the opening conversational gambit. I tried to explain that the data is a lot more detailed than that and tried to demonstrate this by downloading the data and opening the spreadsheet. My audience wasn't with me. I'm used to having to break off things like this so that staff can deal with customers -- we have to have our priorities right -- but I started to lose patience when the staff clutsered at one end of the counter while I was stood at the other end.

"Have I finished here?"

"Yes, you've finished."

I don't know what I've done to warrant all this, I'm just the guy who's had this dumped on him at the last minute and is wasting time he's not got trying to demonstrate something that's actually extremely important to them. Whatever.

As I'm packing up the caretaker starts up:

"They keep saying they've got no money but they can find it to waste on things like that."

I explain that as she knows fine well there's more goes on in the library than just the issuing of books and it's important that we can demonstrate that the library's earning its keep.

"It's just so that the council can economise isn't it? How come my council tax has gone up so much this year?"

Perhaps because people like you don't like the idea of the council economising love. Like an idiot I try to explain that the Rate Support Grant's not clever to begin with and that the government keeps foisting new services and targets on councils without providing the money to cover them; and that Helminthdale in particular is bad at performance monitoring and so misses out on some additional funding.

"Are you saying that some councils down south get more money than Helminthdale?"


"It snows in Dorset you know. You can't beat me in an argument. You can't win."

"I don't give a stuff. I don't have to win anything. You asked me a question, I gave you an answer."

At which point it occurred to me to wonder what the Hell I thought I was doing wasting my time standing at a public counter having this conversation. Irritated beyond measure and filled with self-disgust at the whole waste of time that was this visit I made my exit.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gug nunc

A worrying conversation with a supplier prompts this correspondence:

4:32pm 6th March 2006

Hi Arthur,
You know those online reference subscriptions that I had to select and cost for you to order at the last minute the other week? Were they actually ordered?

10:25 07 March 2006

Hi Kevin,

No, but they could be tomorrow if we still have the funding.


I suppose it's better than "next week," but tomorrow never comes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Restless legs

Yet another last-minute dash: this time to fit electronic people counters in all our libraries by 1st April. The equipment was fitted in most libraries at Xmas, I'm now running round to install the software that downloads the data and converts it into useful spreadsheets. The kit works on an electric beam: it counts the number of interruptions then divides the result by four (a two-legged person going in and coming out). T.Aldous told everyone who would listen, and many who had no such intention, that someone walking past with a ladder would count as a dozen people. The Chief Executive told Warner Baxter that he needs to schedule regular inspections of the ceiling and lights in all our libraries.

I've just downloaded the data for Epiphany Library. Epiphany is halfway between Helminthdale town centre and the head of the u-shaped glacial valley that forms the eastern end of the Borough. The library building sits on the main road into town forming a sort of protecting barrier between the local shopping centre and a four-lane highway. The bleak winds off the Pennines are funnelled down the valley and pick up speed down the road before hitting Epiphany admidships. Being built by an Helminthdale Council architect, the leeward side of the library is made of solid brick and the windward side is glass and steel struts. In the merest breeze the building shivers like a cat stalking a bird. In any sort of a wind the whole place hums like a glass harmonica. This has obviously influenced the results of the people counter: according to the results the library was at its busiest just after midnight last Friday when 64,000 visitors came in during the howling gail and hailstorm they had that night.

"We'll have to find some way of stopping the people counter from wobbling about," I'm told. Me, I can't see any problem: that's one public library standard sorted.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Any news of the iceberg?

It always amazes me what people will get away with in the name of charity. This story is wrong on so many levels it's delightful...

Frog Dropmore is chair of the local chapter of the RNLI. In the event of emergency it would have to be a damned powerful distress flare: we're forty miles from the sea.

The Dutch Bend Players are an amateur dramatic group that does a lot of charity matinees. This weekend they're doing "Titanic: The Musical." Frog's persuaded them to have a charity collection for the RNLI during the interval.

Déjà vu all over again

Human Resources ring me up again to ask why Jimmy Huddersfield hasn't sent in his sickness returns. I tell them again that Jimmy retired lo, these many moons ago.

The Wheel of Life sure turns quick around these parts!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Florence Nightingale should live this day

More PCs arrive. Seth and I feel duty bound to leave one toilet stall free so we commandeer the sick room and pile the boxes in there. Thus killing two birds with one stone. For some reason (i.e. Reggie Clockwatcher was the project manager when the library was built) the sick room had a sink unit fitted in where a camp bed or something should have gone. So for the last thirteen years, if you were taken ill you either lay down at your station or else went into the sick room and had a lie down in the sink. Relief at last: Seth has arranged the boxes such that the invalid just needs a leg up and they can have a nice lie down, the layers of cardboard boxes and styrofoam padding providing comfort scarcely exceeded by a goose feather bed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oh calamity

The only thing that's been keeping some staff going has been the thought that T.Aldous has been dropping hints for ages that he'll retire when he reaches 60 in May. (The older generation, they don't know they're born: free school milk; student grants; old age pensions...)

Their (probably entirely illusory) hopes have come crashing down. Lemuel the caretaker asked out right and was told that much though he'd love to, T.Aldous doesn't feel it's right to retire in May as "there's so much to do."


One reason why staff in this library have so much leave to take before the end of the financial year is that the Group Librarian blocked all leave in October as her new granddaughter was due that month and she wasn't sure which days she'd be taking off for to join the happy family.

Frog suggests that this is not unrelated to the reason why the Saturday worked by the Group Librarian has 11 members of staff available and the Saturday worked by Frog and Lola has six.