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

Monday, December 31, 2007

The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fairy

Somebody has noticed that we're playing a ringer in the staff room crib. Alas, the "real" Little Baby Jesus has been mislaid -- there are so many boxes lying around the place that the poor little mite could be anywhere so the Millennium Bug is acting substitute. Suitably swathed in swaddling cloths he does a fair job of it.

"Isn't it a bit impious having the Millennium Bug in the manger?"

Mary, Joseph and the three kings are clothes pegs. It's the thought that counts.

Time gentlemen please

I'm surprised to me Mabel Shufflewick here this morning.

"Shouldn't you be back home at Sheep City?" I ask.

"It's closed this week. And last."

"Is it? I didn't know."

"Neither did I until I read the paper a couple of weeks ago."


"I was told to take it as leave but all my annual leave's booked up so I'm working over here while they're closed up."

"It's not just us then."

"Oh no. Mind you, I still won't be able to do a full day today because we're being locked out at four."

"Are we?"

Evidently so.

Roll on the Ice Age again

'Phone call from IT Support:

"You know that faulty monitor you reported at Umpty Library?"

"Oh yes..."

"Did they tell you about the fridge magnets on it?"

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I used to come up here at dinnertime

I'm going to have to switch my hearing aid off when I'm in the staff room, which is difficult as I don't have one. Even so...
"That looks nice, what is it?"


"Yeugh! I don't know how you can eat that."

"Why, what's wrong with it?"

"Well, just think where it's been. It's been rolling about in a cow's mouth. Yeugh."

"What are you having, then?"


The Prince of Acquitania in the forgotten tower

Another News Year's Honours List another disappointed staff room. Not so much as an O.B.E. between the lot of us. If the Queen's reading this — I know she's a fan — this is definitely a hint: let's have a gong coming our way in the Birthdays, please.

Over the past few years there's been a lot of guff about "democratising" the honours lists. This turns out to mean a couple of honours going to a lollipop lady and/or a dustbinman so that the Establishment can preen themselves for being meritocratic and journalists can cobble together a bit of patronising drivel to take the gloss off the medals a bit. You won't see many front-line library staff in the Honours List. Scarcely suprising given that library mangers routinely discount their achievements. If local bosses won't recognise staff's contribution to the community it's hardly likely that the Queen's going to become aware of them.

Having said that, none of us would sniff at an O.B.E. if there's a spare one lying round. (hint, hint)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults

Hanging about in Hannigan's Truss Boutique while waiting for my Tenor's Friend to be re-tuned I bump into Ken Barmy.

"Season's greetings and joy to the world," he says. "Smile, you cynical old fossil, it's Christmas!"
(Somebody got a case of hypocrisy in his stocking this year.)

We got talking and I remembered to ask him about something I noticed the other week.

"How come your business plan is published on Blogger?"

"Same reason our library news and the reader interactive stuff is."

"Which is...?"

"You're not the only one having problems with his corporate webmasters. We're not to have any pages longer than one screen and if it's not in the National Local Government Navigation list you can't have it on the web site. And I'm having to copy your idea of hosting pictures on Flickr. I'm having to do that so that we've got pictures in our kids' catalogue."

"Sounds horribly familiar... How many news items are you allowed at a time?"

"Just two."

"My God, are they using the same handbook?"

"The lead officer on our corporate development strategy is talking about setting up a Facebook account to host the pages explaining the strategy to the public. And you know the best what?"

"Go on..."

"The web team have volunteered me to do the corporate customer feedback pages."

Local government has a definite Alice In Wonderland feel about it these days.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I've got crates of his 78s

Well, the festive cheer didn't last long...

We'd rather hoped that Santa might have taken away some of the boxes but no luck. Not for the first time I'm wondering why on earth we're buying new stock for two libraries that won't be reopening before Easter. It comes in, it goes into the box ready to be sent into long-promised storage. Most of our 2008 Richard & Judies have gone into storage, together with a pile of CDs and the new collection of e-books we're supposed experimenting with (this last case may be something in the way of a scientific control sample).

I made the mistake of asking why we're doing this. Sigh...

Friday, December 21, 2007

A rose by any other name

Management Group are having a rebranding. Nothing too drastic, just that from the New Year they'll be known as Policy Team. As far as we can tell this just means that instead of them being a group of people refusing to make management decisions they'll be a team of people refusing to make policy.

Though we think "team" may be pushing it a bit.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A bit of a surprise when I popped into the caretaker's office. Seth and Kevin have been shit-shifting so much that it's been a Christmas-free zone. In fact, they've been doing it so long that it's been pretty much an autumn-free zone, too. Now, all of a sudden, like the transformation scene in a pantomime, the room is filled with tinsel and glitter.


It looks like Shirley Bassey's handbag but the lads are happy enough.

As much fun as a bloodhound's funeral

Frog's in reflective mood:

"It's been a fucking horrible year. Still, there is one thing..."

"What's that?"

"We're not having a pie supper this year so we're spared the usual nonsense."

A fistful of fun

I bump into Bronwyn, who is armed with a thick wodge of paperwork.

"See this?"

she asks, flourishing, amongst other things, a memo I wrote to Management Group last spring saying: "This is scheduled to happen in the autumn. We really should talk about what we need to do to make sure we're not shafted in the process."

"I've just been given this lot as the background notes for a meeting I'm going to at lunchtime. I've no idea what's been going on and I've no idea what I'm supposed to be doing about it."

"My God, they've made you a library manager without giving you the pay rise!"

Just for the record: I never did get any response from Management Group about that memo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Playing for no stakes

Great God, this is an awful place!

An afternoon's worth of reminders of why we are where we are, with an object demonstration of the Public Library Manager Negotiation Model. In brief, the Model works like this:
  1. Months, or even years, before the event you find out that Something Is Going To Happen. "Plenty of time for that," you say.
  2. Do nothing.
  3. If underlings ask, say that nothing is happening.
  4. If underlings suggest that perhaps "we should decide what we're going to do about this," don't deign to even reply.
  5. Your first meeting with your adversary is arranged. Do nothing.
  6. Go to the negotiating table armed with a blank piece of paper. It is important that you have no idea of your desired outcomes of the negotiation.
  7. Be black aggrieved that your adversary has prepared a negotiating position.
  8. Be sore affronted that their negotiating position proposes that any advantages go to them.
  9. On leaving the meeting complain that it's all been stitched up and that there's nothing you can do about it.
  10. Repeat ad absurdum.

I'd insisted on a pre-meeting meeting (I know, but I'm covering my back). Luckily these days the lead officer on this one is Milton so I only had to be a little insistent (for some people I have to be downright offensive before they'll budge). Even so it was somewhat dispiriting:

"Does the Library Service have a counter-proposal for this?"

"There's no point: they've decided what they want and that's what's going to happen."

Till the end of time

Coming back in after a couple of days off with my turn at the office virus I find things haven't changed a bit (I was wishing for the best during a delirious phase)...

T.Aldous on The Nation's Biggest Whiteboard:

"We must do something with this."

...answers on a postcard.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Up the poll

The League of Nations has decided: in answer to the question "In the scheme of things, what is your chief's highest service priority?" the results were:
  1. Keeping staff in their place (45%)
  2. Hobnobbing with The Profession (30%)
  3. The book sale (15%)
  4. The colour of the carpet (10%)
  5. A nice cup of tea (0%)

This is an entirely unscientific sample but the subject of library managers demands a certain lack of intellectual rigour anyway, so we'll accept the results nem. con.

It's really unnerving to find that so many people from round the globe find parallels between Helminthdale and their own working environments. Ah dear... the awfulness of the public library environment when public library managers have their head.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Evil from beyond the veil

Three-quarters of the network traffic locally is either IT testing the network to try and work out why all the connections are dropping; IT testing the mail servers to try and work out why everybody's Outlook keeps crashing; or emails from IT telling us there's something wrong with the network and Outlook keeps crashing.

Just for a change we've all just received the IT Section's e-newsletter. It tells us that the new upgrades to the network make it work more intelligently. It is obviously a malign intelligence intent on doing us grave harm. There'll be some smart traffic on the buy-and-sell pages of the intranet as people upgrade their crucifixes and Joan-the-wads.


Our friends in IT have decreed that we shall no longer have access to the hard drives of our PCs.

Amongst other things this means that if I want everyone at a library to have a particular shortcut on their desktop, instead of my creating the shortcut and dropping it into the desktop folder for "All users" I now have to submit a request for IT to do the job. What was a two minute job can now take weeks.

Better still, we have now all received emails from IT complaining about the number of files that are being held on the servers that host the networked folders. "In the event of a disaster it would take three days to restore all the data that had been backed up," they bleat. I've mentioned before that Helminthdale Council isn't big on cause and effect.

I'm old and set enough in my ways to think that networked drives are for zipped backups and for shared folders and hard disks are for day-to-day working gubbins. From a corporate risk management point of view I can't help thinking that the possibility of two thousand PCs having their hard disks crash spontaneously within three days of each other is vanishingly remote.


The current list-chatter about CILIP adds a certain poignancy to this one. Overheard at the staff room table, Nancy asked Frog:
"Is there still a Library Association these days?"

Every little movement
has a meaning all its own

Milton pops in, says "how do," then goes into the store room where he spends ten minutes rummaging round and moving equipment round on the racking. He then leaves, nodding as he goes.

I have no idea what he was doing or why.

I'm reminded of the running shoplifting gag in Laurel and Hardy's "Tit For Tat."

Milton's a very nice bloke and a very interesting colleague but as a manager he can be bloody hard work at times.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Too marvelous for words

Corporate Customer Care Focus Group Meeting. Surprising unanimity about the council's commitment to customer care, typified by the comment

"We're trying our best to provide services to the public but we never know when we're going to hit a brick wall and find out that we're not allowed to do something for no apparent reason. I feel like I'm lost in a maze."

I agree entirely but I'm surprised to hear that coming from somewhere else in the organisation.

Sentimental journey

The bus journey between Helminthdale and Dutch Bend is like a cold shower to one's democratic principles. Overheard conversation between two people who have the vote come the next election:

"Do you like frottage?"

"I'm not struck on cheese."

The cat's got the measles

Back from a compulsory corporate audit workshop on sickness monitoring, imposed because the Library Service is now the sick man of Helminthdale.

Front-line services like social services, one-stop-shops and libraries tend to have worse records than do corporate support services because they're subject to whatever human pathogens the customers bring along with them, which then get shared around the building.

Our toxic management regime and long-standing policy of leaving vacancies to mature a few years before filling them doesn't help any as far as stress-related illness is concerned.

It turns out that another factor is our disproportionately high number of part-time and job-share workers. If somebody who works two days (15 hours) a week is off sick for both days the council takes that as being a full week (37½ hours) lost. Better still, if two people jobshare 37½ hours between them and both are off sick at the same time it is taken that we have lost 75 hours' work.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hidey holes

It's not just us...

Lupin's popped in to do some sorting out of a few PCs that aren't playing nice on the network. Once he'd finished we got chatting, which eventually turned into his giving me a travelogue of his time in the forces and we got to chatting about European languages (I can just about speak English and I can read three others with considerable difficulty; Lupin can manage to speak three and is learning the Gaelic for to better read whisky labels). After a while he said to me:

"I'm here because I like talking to you, but I'm also here because I'm hiding."

"Don't worry, I know the symptoms. We all have to do it sometimes."

"If I wasn't here I'd be taking a pile of boxes down to the tip. That's what we're doing this week. We're not allowed to leave the boxes and packing behind when we install new hardware and it's just occured to our director that half the floor's piled up in cardboard."

I bet if they took all the cardboard boxes out of Helminthdale the place would turn out to be a hamlet made up of three houses and a telephone box.


Apparently Tommy, the caretaker at Catty Library, had a difficult week getting the place cleared out for the building works. Every day he asked Julia if he should get on with taking down the shelving she told him no. Finally, on the Thursday he said: "I'll get on with the shelves now."

"No, don't do that."

"They'll need taking down before tomorrow."

"Leave them be. The company that's going to be installing the new shelves will take them down."

"If the shelves are still up how will the builders replace the floor?"

"Oh yes..."

The world of Draylon

I'm puzzled. I've just popped into Carbootsale to install a printer and I'm confronted by a sofa which I'm sure I last saw in the lift lobby at Helminthdale. Verity assures me that this has been here all the past couple of weeks.

My God, they're breeding!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Big wooden spoon

Jim and I have been looking at some of the issue statistics, which throw up some interesting trends. For instance, Catty's issue figures have been bleeding over to Carbootsale for most of the year and Crime Fiction issues at Gypsy Lane have increased four-fold over the past twelve months.

"I don't know why Doreen and Julia don't look at these statistics," says Jim.

"What?" I reply, "library managers looking at management information? Isn't that an infringement on their professional know-how or something? Next thing we know they'll be using the figures to demonstrate an increase in throughput and the need for more staffing for the more customer-focussed activities that we need to do to meet our learning and visitor targets."

"I don't understand them at all. I circulated some information about a funding stream that could be used to pay for the staff needed to do more learning activities over the next couple of years. None of them wanted to know."

"Why don't you get it onto the agenda for a Management Group meeting?"

"I take it you've heard about the last one then. My God..."

Quite so. It's better to have your whole management team sitting on the enquiry desk rather than fill existing vacancies and take the opportunity to get external funding for extra staff.



Milton and I touch base. "What was the last Management Group meeting like?" I ask.
"I would have greeted Death like a long-lost uncle," replies Milton.

Collection management

I pick up a 'phone call from upstairs.

"Can you check the reserve stock stacks for me?"

"Yes, what am I looking for."

"Well, we've been looking all over for them for the past half hour but it turns out that Doreen's put the Writing Group Support Collection into reserve stock."

"Oh, that's news to me, too. Never mind, what am I looking for?"

"It's 'How To Write and Publish Local History' but I might be sending you on a wild goose chase because although the system says that it should be in somebody's just said that it's been issued to another writing group."

Needless to say...

Doorways to the unknown

There's an interesting email on lis-pub-libs letting us know about a Yahoo Group for UK public library workers.

Needless to say this group's blocked by the IT Section.


I get a 'phone call from Roadkill Library.

"Daisy Dormouse has re-classified the non-fiction stock here into new subject categories. Can these go onto the Catalogue?"

"No, sorry."

I'm always a bit bemused by librarians who say that "Dewey's too difficult, we should have non-fiction classified by subject." As a layman I always understood that Dewey was a subject-based taxonomy. What it generally means is that rather than having all the organic chemistry books in one place, the inorganic chemistry in another, nearby place and the books on physics in another place slightly further away you get a bay of "science" books bunched together somehow or other. (Actually, this is what really happens anyway but we're not supposed to admit this.)

I look forward to us having a myriad different classification schemes in the Catalogue, one for each library and a few to spare for people with plenty of time on their hands.

I'm more irritated than bemused by the thought that we're always being told that the librarians at Dutch Bend don't have the time to do this, that or another but they do have the time for this type of nonsense.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Keep it real and shove as much in your trolley as you possibly can

Oh how splendid. The corporate network has been down all afternoon. Four times we got back onto the network, each time dropping back off within two minutes. It finally came back up half an hour ago.

Imagine everybody's delight on opening their emails to find their inboxes full of emails from the IT section saying that the network is down.

As worn as the palms of a bored monkey

Tittle-tattle from the latest Management Group meeting...

It should have been about our cultural change programme (somebody's given us public money to stop being feckless and indecisive) (actually they gave it us a few years ago and you can guess the rest). Instead, what little time that wasn't devoted to saying that they really should do something about discussing the staffing structure was spent dealing with a complaint from Julia and Doreen that "it wasn't fair that they covered for vacancies on the enquiry desk and Jim and Milton should do their share."

This is wrong on so many levels:
  • "It's not fair" !?! What sort of puerile argument is that at this sort of management level? No wonder we're treated with scorn by other parts of the council.
  • It's a gross waste of taxpayer's money to be paying a high-level manager to do the same job as someone who's paid in buttons to staff the enquiry desk.
  • If it isn't a gross waste of taxpayer's money then perhaps the person who's paid in buttons should have salary parity with the high-level manager sitting next to them.
  • We say we don't have enough staff to properly serve the number of service points we have in our authority. The Audit Commission says we don't. Government inspectors say we don't. But we must do: we open the doors every day and we keep vacancies open for years on end.
  • Perhaps the time spent fatally masking staffing problems could be better spent putting together evidence-based business cases for more staff.

Still, what do I know about these things?


Milton's left a message on the little whiteboard (the one we're allowed to use; we're working on the assumption that The Nation's Biggest Whiteboard is an early assay on next year's Turner Prize).

WFH Monday

Working from home? Whaling from Hokkaido? What flaming Hell? Who knows.

At least the message accords with our Communication Strategy.

Heard it on the grapevine

'Phone call from Hedi at Pottersbury Road.

"Nobody told you that we're closed on the 29th did they?"

"Err.. no. No, they didn't."

We have a three-week loan period and so items issued on Saturday have a 29th December due date.

"I changed the due dates as I was going along but I think I missed one or two."

I set the 29th as a closed day on the system at this library so at least nobody will be paying overdue fines for that day. It's generally a good idea to do this a we bit earlier than this but why conform to boring norms?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Customer care

I am invited to one of next week's Corporate Customer Care Focus Group meetings.

It's easy to be cynical about these things...

...so I may as well go with the flow.

Sickness monitoring

Betty Comstock was off sick yesterday with an eye infection. On her return today she's spent half an hour with Doreen having her Sickness Monitoring Return Interview, as required by Corporate Helminthdale. Two-thirds of this interview has to be involved in addressing ways of improving the individual employee's sickness record.

Betty retires from work next week.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I'm asked how the trip to the Online Information thing at Olympia went. I can't sound enthusiastic: it was pretty depressing really. All those things that we're not going to be doing. Very often it isn't because we can't afford to do something, it's because it would be a waste of time. The Library Service wouldn't do anything with it, even if I would. We haven't even got to the point of using email as a means of communication so I can't see the buggers working with knowledge management and shared workspace tools.

Like a whiteboard. Ha ha ha ha.

The Vanished

Wondering whether or not I had time to start doing some work on the subject indexing on the catalogue before I was likely to be taken to one side for a chat with Milton I find that the whole of Management Group has decamped en bloc to the Technical College at Dutch Bend for a Strategic Meeting. Leaving me as senior member of staff for the service and utterly ignorant of what to do in the case of an emergency.

If Acq. and Admin. don't co-ordinate things so that somebody's always available to answer T.Aldous' telephone for him there's hell to pay (particularly tricky seeing as there are just the five people in these two teams and one is deaf). But it's OK for the whole of Management Group to swan off unannounced for the afternoon.

Frog's reappearance takes some of the pressure off. Unlike me, he works most Saturdays so he knows what to do in the event of an emergency in the absence of Management Group. It turns out to be exactly the same as my plan: we don't know what to do so we'll just have to busk it.

I know my place

I get an email from Milton telling me the results of discussions he's just had with the IT contractors about the People's Network and the new library management system.

At one time I might have felt put out not to have known about this beforehand so that even if I weren't to be invited I could have some idea of what Milton's suggesting the systems will need to do and when by. (I am only the Systems Librarian after all.) These days I'm more-or-less reconciled to leaving him to his fun.

More or less.

Walking wounded

Seth's officially knackered: he's done his arm in doing all the shit-shifting over the past few weeks. The doctor's told him that he needs to make sure that he isn't constricting the forearm and that he should keep his wrist and arm moving to make sure that the muscles don't stiffen. I've suggested banjo lessons.

Norma at Windscape has broken her arm Christmas shopping. The good news is that it ought to mend so long as she's sensible about not carrying stuff or banging the arm. She's currently on her third cast in as many days.

Frog's had a car crash. That is to say, a drunk ran a red light, crashed into a van, which crashed into Frog's car. He's mostly OK, though "a little shaken," but the car's not looking healthy. He came into work anyway but after a while he decided that he should go up to Accident & Emergency to be on the safe side ("a little shaken" turned out to be quite shaken indeed). Sitting in the queue waiting to be seen by the doctor he got a text message from Mary:

"You will need to claim the time off from your insurance."

Sybil, the Regional Librarian, is walking with a pronounced limp these days. It's due to a medical condition she's more than happy to talk about now the weather's turned to wet and windy so we're putting it about that it's the result of a botched Brazilian.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The maniacal merriment of a madman

Catty Library is a derelict shed with a nice Grade II listed facade, bits of pigeon falling from the ceiling and puddles on the floor. It's now closed for six months for a complete refurb to try and sort out problems like the fact the front wall's falling off.

Rather than shut the library leaving nothing we've moved a pile of the stock (too much, in fact) to Carbootsale Library, a mile down the road, and extended that library's opening hours to match those of Catty Library.

So the council's finally doing some much-needed building work to bring Catty Library up to scratch and we're trying our best to meet local needs by boosting the service at the nearest alternative library. Good news, no?


Local politician:

"It's a long way for people from Catty to have to go to Carbootsale. They wouldn't have to do that if it was Helminthdale Library that was closed."

Well actually they did. But we're still having to investigate the possibility of providing services by proxy in the local housing office.

Question time

Interviews are always tricky. It's all too possible to seem a bit too keen or say something devastatingly naive and we shouldn't mock because we've all been there.

But every so often things get just plain daft. One of the blokes being interviewed for the spare caretaker's job at Helminthdale asked a cracker:

"Will I have control of the book-buying budget?"

Monday, December 03, 2007

The power of advertising

Salome is pissed off. Helminthdale Library re-opened on time last week but we haven't told anybody. Staff on site know (because the doors are opened every morning), and the rest of our staff have found out by Chinese whispers. There have been no announcements of such to staff or public. The consequences are inevitable.

"I am sick to death of people telling me that they didn't know the library was open again and they don't see why they should have to pay overdue fines in the interim. Why can't we announce that we've re-opened?!?"


"Online Information" is on at Olympia this week, following hard on the heels of "Erotica 2007."

I do hope there aren't any unfortunate mix-ups.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


"Reassure me," says Frog, surveying the boxes and desks and chairs and bits and paper and general disarray. "We are a library service, aren't we?"

"Despite it all, we are," I reply. I hope I sound more convinced than I am.