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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It's about bloody time I had a parade in my honour

We have a three-week loan period.

"Noddy Library closes on 17th February to move to its new site. Can you change the due dates on the system so that they're not stamping closed dates?"

"When do they re-open?"

"Don't know. It depends on when the network connection to the new site's installed."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Every one a Maserati

"Is six minutes a record for a project to go from initiation to being kicked into touch by T.Aldous?" asks Milton.

He'd had an email from someone saying that if he could think of a way of spending £28k on community development activities before the end of the financial year the money was his. As it happens, we've been bouncing ideas on this around for a week or two so he just needed to pull together some of the costings to put together an outline plan. Then he made his fatal error: he emailed Management Group for input. And as bad luck would have it this was the email that T.Aldous would open today.

We need to get together and have a think about this.

It's uncanny to think of all the thousands of emails that go unopened in that mailbox.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A fourpenny all-off always does for me

From the first of January we've dropped the charges on reserving books in our libraries. Except that it's so difficult to find out whether or not a decision is made in this council we've only today found out that the councillors have given the OK to this.

I could change the settings on the system tonight so's the new regime takes place tomorrow. Or on Wednesday night so's it takes place from 1st February. But no: Management Group has decided it takes effect from next Monday.

"How are they doing that?" I ask.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not coming in Saturday night or Sunday to do it."

So the compromise is that I do it on Friday night at close of play. The delay is necessary so that a memo can be written, checked, corrected, printed and sent out to libraries. I wonder why the memo hasn't been drafted already given that this has been on the cards for months. Milton has a deeper question:

"Why don't they send everyone an email?"

He's new, he doesn't know how things work here yet.

Friday, January 26, 2007

And is it home to sharks?

This morning I had an e-mail from one of the branches to tell me they were "cut off from the comms network".

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Space: the final frontier

The Acquisitions Team's ready for the usual end-of-financial-year-splurge as the usual desperate attempt to spend half the annual book fund in one quarter. (It's not nearly as bad as usual, things are a bit better managed this time: last year it was three-quarters of the book fund.) They've shifted a couple of filing cabinets out of the way and cleared a space along one wall ready for the boxes of new books, being careful not to get them mixed up with the boxes for any of the three libraries that have been allegedly moving house for the past year or two. Then along comes Doreen, the new Group Librarian.

"Oh, excellent! There's plenty of space here for the book sale books."

"Err... no."

"But I need the space to get the book sale books out of the way for this weekend's event. They'll only be here for a week or so."

A week or so in Helminthdale is half a decade. They only had enough room for the new books for Noddy because they took an executive decision to "disappear" some Italian children's books that were a long-forgotten gift from our twin town. Mary and Noreen dug their heels in and Doreen went away thwarted and frustrated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Elvis riding Shergar

For the past eight months I've been having monthly follow-up 'phone calls from an equipment supplier asking if we're planning on buying some kit that they came and demonstrated for us last year. And for the past eight months I've told them that I'm led to believe by T.Aldous that we're very keen to buy it but I don't know when it's going to be ordered. To add to the fun, once a quarter T.Aldous asks me to ask them for an update on the price. This is the regular pattern with so many such things that I know what comes next. And hey presto!

"Can they supply quickly? We need it as soon as possible."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Popping out of my office to investigate a peculiar grinding noise I find T.Aldous talking to Bronwyn Fazakerly. She's made the mistake of not hiding a piece of publicity matter she's put together for next week's "Winter's Tails [sic]" events.

"I really wouldn't have done that, or put that that way and I wouldn't have included that or that. But then again I do have many years more experience of doing publicity work than you."

I turn on my heel before I get embroiled and find myself asking exactly when he did this publicity and how come every publicity activity that I know of that came within his radar died stillborn at the last minute while he had a think about what was necessary to completely redo the whole thing.

The grinding noise was Bronwyn's teeth.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The veriest bliss

For most of today there's been no Management Group presence in any of our libraries. None of us know what we should do in the event of an emergency but this has been the case every other Saturday for the past three years so we plan on following the other ranks' prevailing best guess (eat the dead and give cups of tea to the survivors).

What has been wonderful is that the 'phones have been lovely and quiet. This can't have been because senior managers weren't sitting in their offices with their telephones through to other people's desks despite leaving messages with all and sundry to ring them back as a matter of urgency:

"Could I speak to T.Aldous please."

"I'll just check and see if he's around."

"He must be, he just rang me and told me to ring him back."


How many members of Management Group does it take to decide how much milk the person who's been acting as milk monitor for over two years has to buy today because it's Monday?


And they still weren't sure so they went to ask Noreen to let them know whether it should have been one or two litres in the end.

Squalid and macabre horseplay

Management Group is having a day away from the office to talk about the big picture stuff they would be talking about at Management Group meetings if they weren't too busy discussing what to call their meetings and the state of the teaspoons at Helminthdale Library. "Away day," say some, with a sniff. "Severance," say many with undisguised glee.

Apparently they should have set off for Abattoir Lane Community Centre half an hour ago but T.Aldous has just arrived and told them that it's nine thirty, not eight thirty after all. So rather than waste time getting anything productive done they're cluttering the lobby talking about their weekends. Leading by example.

The apocalypse will be started by Postman Pat

Frog's on the receiving end of a playground strop from one of the Group Librarians. His crime was to try to arrange the availability of one of the Assistant Librarians that Management Group told him needed to be involved in a meeting he's organising. Last week I copped for one for sorting out a problem on the library management system. I don't know what's going on but I'll be happy when they pack it in and start behaving like managers instead of little kids.

"I'll have to get some HRT patches. Then next time one of them has a go at me I'll just slap a patch on them and leave 'em to it," says Frog.

It pains me to think that these people are senior managers and they feel free to behave like this. This is the sort of thing that just reinforces the glass ceiling on women managers.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Help the aged

An old dear collapsed at Chintz Road Library -- where the "People's Friend" is king. The staff rallied round commendably, checking that she was as comfortable as possible and 'phoning for an ambulance. Unfortunately, the customers couldn't really get into the spirit of the thing: as Jane tended the sick and Wendy rang for the ambulance the ladies in the queue all tutted, sucked their teeth and pointedly tapped their library cards impatiently.

Don't be too hard on the old dears: this must happen all the time at the day centre. I expect it's almost a daily occurence and the novelty's worn off a bit.

A soldier of the Apocalypse

Real-life exchange:

Frog: "Something's got to be done: the staff are really demoralised."

T.Aldous: "Well, I'm not demoralised."

So that's OK then.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Arseholes wreathed in smiles

Ron Chaney's leaving do at Sheep City. I'm so very glad I'm not invited! Star turns include the shades of Shagger Noakes, Harry Presto and Ardley Corduroy, all come to rejoice in his passing. Mabel Shufflewick from Local Studies, who was invited and was leant on to turn up, was suitably impressed:

"Madame Tussaud's must have a touring repertory group."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Misleading adverts

There's an advert on the telly for pregnancy testing kits as says:

"The most up-to-date technology you will ever pee on."

Evidently they've never installed People's Network terminals in a public library.

Scratched record

I get a 'phone from Norman Inskip call to ask what I'm doing about spending up the 2004/5 project.

Is it spring already?

Hey ho.

Let's join hands and contact Management Group

Mary and Milton are in a meeting with the web team about a children's web site.

This is the first I know about it but I'm just the bloke who's told he can't walk away from the new web site because his work on the old site was so valued.

This is the first Lola knows about it but she's just the person who's been made responsible for the new web site because she was nearest Mary's door when she received a panicky 'phone call when I was off sick last year.

And this is the first Frog knows about it but he's only responsible for children's library services in the Borough.

I'm told that Management Group's priority for January is "communication."

A gift for getting nettled

It's lovely dealing with Management Group. You can spend years -- literally -- asking questions, making suggestions, begging for input and get jack all in response. Systems Librarian makes a decision that solves a systemic problem that will avoid creating problems for front-line staff across the Borough in the relocation of Noddy Library and inconveniences nobody but himself (I would have two hours' work to do in the process) and what happens? I get a public rebuke for not involving two people who wouldn't know what I was talking about in the first place.

With some difficulty I fight back the natural response.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Thirty-one boxes of new books are delivered to add to the nineteen that were delivered the other day and the twenty we're expecting tomorrow. Mary tells people that they're stacking up because the Acq. team "can only do so much," which pisses them off because they've been waiting three years for one of their vacancies to be filled (not for want of asking) and are still trying to find out what's happening with Jimmy Huddersfield's job.

The major project now is how to find room for all these boxes. Seth makes a suggestion:

"Couldn't all those display stands that T.Aldous bought and stackedup in the fire corridor last June go out on display in some of the libraries? Then there'd be plenty of room to stack these boxes. They'll only be there for a week or two and we'll then have a clear fire exit."

So instead we're piling boxes ten deep in the corner by the filing cabinets.

Any old Alsatians here tonight?

One of the (many) things that utterly baffle me about this service is its attitudes to encyclopedias. After they've been lingering on the reference shelves for a decade they're shifted on to the lending shelves because "people like to borrow them." (As the keeper of the item-level usage statistics I can state categorically that no, they don't. I don't count three volumes issued in all our libraries in this financial year as much of a market.)

The parallel argument is that "they're expensive so we need to get our money's worth out of them." I'm sorry, if an encyclopedia doesn't earn its keep on the reference library shelves then we shouldn't be buying it in the first place.

The upshot is that libraries who moan that they don't have enough room on their shelves for new stock have shelves groaning with copies of the 1985 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Monday, January 15, 2007

There's a whole world of misery out there

Regular readers of this blog (bless you both) will be surprised to know that I am given to bouts of morbid depression. I won't be a therapy bore, suffice it to say that we've identified that the underlying cause is work-related stress. I have been resisting taking antidepressants as I'm against them in principle (I know, I know, they work for many people but many of my problems stem from my setting unjustifiably high standards for myself and I will see a resort to drugs as a sign of failure)(besides, I'm not in my right mind, I don't have to be rational about this -- goddammit there's got to be some advantage to being barmy!)

The psychological techniques I've been learning as I've been going along have helped enormously in managing most of the stress symptoms: I'm not throwing up every morning before going into work and I'm chasing off the anxiety attacks long before they build up any strength. But the depression is dug in for the long haul and is being constantly fed by the irritations and idiocies of Helminthdale. As I say, I have been resisting antidepressants but in my last session it became apparent that I am seriously going to have to reconsider my position. I've learned over the years that reality is defined by the most insane element in the working environment, which explains much of the Helminthdale experience. I'm just not comfortable with being that defining element myself.

Of course, the question arises: what type of job is it that requires somebody's having to take medication to get through the working day. The answer is: a job that will be very easy to walk away from.

Nature's wonders

Team work in action: Five librarians standing in a cluster having a gossip with a telephone ringing next to them. I deliberately let it go for more than the statutory three rings and pick it up on the sixth. It's a call for Mary, who's one of the five ignorant librarians and whose 'phone is through to an empty desk. I go over and say:

"Mary, call for you."

"Who is it?"

"Matilda Forbush."

"Who's Matilda Forbush? I don't know a Matilda Forbush."

"I don't know, I just took your call for you."

Mary always queries who the call's from, why they're calling and who is this person. Why she can't just take the bloody 'phone call is beyond me.

Just about one-third of the square root of jack shit

Ron Chaney, Helminthdale's Principal Cultural Officer, will be leaving us this week for pastures new. He's the boss at Sheep City and will be sodly massed. So much so that his staff envy us for having T.Aldous as a boss.

Ron's finest hour, perhaps, was his meeting with T.Aldous and Henry Irving last autumn where they were discussing the Archives Service, which we part-fund. Ron wasn't getting what he wanted out of the meeting (which was "we will give you unlimited funds to do as you damned well please") and once that became apparent he did no more than turn his back on T.Aldous and Henry and start working on his PC, completely ignoring the meeting that he'd called as an urgent priority. His visitors pointedly carried on with the meeting, literally talking to Ron's back and making — and minuting — a bunch of decisions that Ron wouldn't ordinarily countenance in a million years but which he agreed to by default because of his utter ignorance.

He once sent Shagger Noakes an email, copied to me and T.Aldous saying:

"It is disgraceful that the archives are not catalogued on a computer system. I will ask Kevin why this is not the case."

I replied:

"You didn't want the archives on the Library Management System when we first installed it fifteen years ago and you have done nothing about getting the archives catalogued since. What are you doing about this disgraceful state of affairs?"

It all went quiet after that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I'm just going now...

I'm developing a mouth ulcer and I'm not sure whether or not to report it in the Accidents and Injuries at Work Book.

I was trying to be serious and responsible in a meeting when I heard T.Aldous say:

"Well, I'm not proscriptive on the way we describe things so long as the job gets done."

I had to bite the inside of my cheek so hard to stop laughing that I drew blood.

A rose is a rose is a rose

Management Group has a subgroup looking at how we're doing against our performance targets so that any slippage gets flagged up in time for MG to react and decide upon remedial action. It's easy to be cynical, as Milton pointed out when he accidentally let slip that the Secret Society had these periodic Business Improvement Meetings. Or at least they had. After a couple of meetings they've been renamed.

Apparently, Jim made the mistake of reporting back on the BIMs to Management Group. At which point T.Aldous asked why they were called "Business Improvement Meetings" as

"They're not about the business library service."

All the people who might ever refer to "Business Improvement Meetings" were sitting around that table and were all clear about the scope and purpose of these meetings but T.Aldous insisted on a renaming and was only just prevailed upon not to spend the whole of that Management Group meeting talking about it. And so it was that at the next ex-BIM they decided on "Library Improvement Meetings," which prevailed for all of ten minutes. Milton came out of the meeting looking a bit shellshocked.

"What did they call it in the end?" I asked him.

"How do you know?"

"I saw T.Aldous going into the meeting room."

"He said that 'Library Improvement Meeting' sounded like we were talking about carpets and shelving."

"How long did he spend talking about it? Half an hour?"

"Not half an hour."

"An hour?"

"Not that long."

"What did he call them in the end?"

"Target Improvement Meetings."

"Doesn't that suggest that the meetings are about improving the targets rather than checking on our ability to meet them?"

"If you say that out loud again in this building you're a dead man."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

No creature smarts so little as a fool

Joy. The latest missive from one of our baby hackers:

Yo! Library!
I am da masta! I have found out that I can beat yor security. I have looked at yor files because I am a pretty good expert and I know that the passwords for yor computers in Sheep City is sheep and how I know this is that I can read yor password. I can in yor system and I can know good how it works. I want you let the newspapers know what I can do to you.

The Masta

I pass it on to IT Security. If I were working my notice -- or if I were working my passage for a medical discharge (ooh matron!) -- I'd have sent him this reply:

Yo! Masta!
We have found out that you are an illiterate moron with a small dick. We want that you let your girlfriend know this but we know you haven't got one.

The Library

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A cowardly escape from the problems of peace

T.Aldous is at the new library site at Noddy, complaining that one of the shelving units is six inches too long, when a BT engineer calls.

"Where do you want this line putting?" asks said engineer.

Decisive as ever, T.Aldous springs into action: he rings Helminthdale to tell Milton that he needs to go down to Noddy to answer a technical question. Milton's come in by train today so can't drive down. "Which bus do I need to get?" he asks. As T.Aldous doesn't know and can't suggest how Milton might find out (Milton sitting as he is in an office behind the reference library and across the road from the bus station) he insists that Milton tells Jim to drop what he's doing and drive Milton down to Noddy. Which Jim does. And as T.Aldous insists on his sticking around while T.Aldous discusses where the line should go with Milton, and there is only one place in the end where the line can go -- and that's where I marked the plan with a cross fifteen months ago -- it's a dead waste of expensive time.

I wonder if anyone's ordered the 'phone line yet.

My friend Flickr

A big thank you to all of you who suggested file-sharing sites that I could use to hold the graphics for our kid's site. I've successfully got the files working by hosting them on Flickr (chosen solely because it was the first suggestion).

I have every expectation that I'll be using the full list of suggestions as the corporate environment evolves over time!

Does the Incredible Hulk wear a push-up bra?

Lippy's made up: she tried the Superhero Quiz and found out that she's the Incredible Hulk.

I tried the quiz and found out that I was Superman. This is a crushing disappointment: I had hoped that with my dark, brooding manner and saturnine good looks that I might have turned out to be someone sexy like Batman or Grimly Fiendish.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Startling breakthrough in knowledge management toolkits!

A colleague sends a picture of their new means of staff communication with their management team.


This is nice. Our customers are having problems logging onto their Yahoo email because the Internet security software is suppressing their log-ins again. To be on the safe side, before I report the problem yet again to the IT service desk I log onto Yahoo mail using an ID I'd set up specifically for this purpose about six months ago. All is fine at their end so I try to log off. And find I can't because the logout exit page is now banned by the corporate frivolity filter.

Monday, January 08, 2007

As told to his horse, Nellie

"The problem with Warner," says T.Aldous, "is that he's far too pernickety and finicky about little things that should be beneath him."

Says the man who last week gave management group a collective bollocking for disposing of 25 out of 26 copies of the 1998 "New Library: New Network" report that were hiding one of the projectors we didn't know we had.


I'm in the car park lift when a colleague from the Finance Section turns to me and suddenly asks:

"How on earth did T.Aldous get to be Chief Librarian?"

I am nonplussed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Overheard at lunch:

"Tsk! Fancy giving a cat a job in a lumber mill!"

"Err... Korky the Cat's not real you know."

Hooray for Helminthdale!

Hooray for Helminthdale calendar cover

Local Studies have published their new calendar. You might like to have a look:

The pdf didn't work too well so here, by the magic of blunt crayon and green biro, is the calendar in JPEG format.

march again just in casenovember
decemberback cover

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Isn't life pretty?" Ernest Hemingway once said

Almost as soon as I get in T.Aldous comes to bother me.

"What are you doing about improving visitor counts?" he asks.




"You said December."

"Oh good. That'll be all right then,"
I reply and get on with my work.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Lovely. Another van-load of old kit from Catty and Dutch Bend, sent in to me as part of the "tidying up the libraries" programme.

I've half a mind to dump it all in T.Aldous' office.

Pouring water on a drowning man

More horror stories from the sickness monitoring briefings. I'm so glad I wasn't in any of T.Aldous' discussion groups! Norman*, unfortunately for him, was in one of them. He's just back at work from long-term sick with stress. We split into groups to discuss how we would deal with case studies, including one about someone who has a nervous breakdown. So there was T.Aldous and Norman sitting in with a bunch of complete strangers when Himself says:

"This is a bit sensitive really. You wouldn't know this but Norman's just returned back to work after having a nervous breakdown of his own."

* Ordinarily I'd observe Norman's anonymity but he wears his stress badge with pride: "It's my T.Aldous Huxtable Campaign Medal," he declares.

There's nothing proud about me

It wouldn't do to enquire too closely about the library service's mental well-being these days. To my knowledge there are four of us (including myself) going through courses of counselling sessions and the only reason I don't know whether or not at least another two are doing similar is that it's none of my damned business.

"I'll be in late tomorrow morning," I tell the Acq team, "I've got my next counselling session."

"Hope it goes well," says Noreen.

"I'll probably get sectioned," I reply, happily.

"Could we all get sectioned?" pipes up Betty. "It might be nice having some time in the madhouse."

"Too late, we're already here," replies Noreen, sadly.

Chatting to a colleague I mention this exchange. She laughs:

"Did I tell you what happened last week?"

"No, what?"

"T.Aldous asked me how my counselling sessions were going and I told him that things must be bad because last time the psychologist burst into tears part way through."

"What did he say to that?"

"He went white and I haven't seen or heard from him since."

Damn. I wish I'd thought of that!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

This time we're lost somewhere else entirely

I'm using quite a lot of graphics on our library portal, particularly on the children's pages, which is as it should be. Unfortunately, I can't store the graphics files on the portal's server because I'm not allowed there "for security reasons." (The same security reasons that mean I can't restart the server when some bugger in IT accidentally unplugs it at the mains.) Up to now I've got by this by:
  • Using graphics files that we've been using on our web site (particularly on the children's pages dot dot dot). Except that we're not allowed graphics on the new council web site.
  • So I put them in a blog. But we aren't allowed access to blogs on the corporate network (yet can create blogs... go figure) and so can't get the addresses of the graphics.
  • So I created a Yahoo group and uploaded the files there, but that doesn't work because the graphics are only visible on the PC I used for the process.

So I have to find another home for them at nil cost without appearing on the radar of any of the corporate prodnoses who want to dictate what services the Library Service does or doesn't provide to the poor bloody public but who have no intention of accepting any degree of responsibility for their activities whatsoever.

"Power without responsibility... the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages." Amen, Stanley, amen.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Transformation scene

Talking to a colleague from down south they tell me that they're involved in organising a seminar on the impact of Transformational Government on library services for senior library managers.

"Someone mentioned that Helminthdale had had one of the first Transforming Libraries inspections and it was suggested that T.Aldous could do a presentation on the experience and how it's being implemented."

"That's a good idea," I say with my best poker face on.

"I told them not to be so bloody silly," says my colleague.