Friday, August 29, 2008
I've just been checking the online support for our library management system. It's one of those that "invites" you to check out the resolutions of existing calls before logging one afresh, which lets me see this gem:
Please re-open log #1575. This problem is not resolved.
I wonder what percentage of problems logged on this system are really just people saying: "Don't close this call, this problem is not resolved?" And I wonder what's best: "95% of our logged problems are closed within a day" or "90% of our problems generate more than two complaints from customers."
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Have had a meeting with colleagues from elsewhere and we've been discussing the options for our library management systems. The problem we've all got is that we've either got old systems that are starting to show their age; newer systems that have been iced suddenly because the companies concerned have been taken over by others; or newer systems that are just plain crap. We're in the happy position of being able to get by as we are for a year or so, which means that we've got to be taking a good hard look at the market at a time when the market's all over the place.
One colleague's just bought a new system and they're doing the project planning for the installation. This is always a tricky time — library management systems are necessarily complex because the whole business of the library is going through it; and very contentious because the whole business of the library is going through it. This case isn't helped by the library director's off-the-cuff announcement in a meeting the other day:
"This maintenance bill's a bit expensive. We'll let them do the installation then when everything's up and running we'll just cancel the maintenance contract and save us some money."
Some days you can see the car crash from miles away.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Luckily, it worked fine once I put the paper in the tray.
"The People's Network printer's been out of order for the past four days. Can you fix it?"
"What's it not doing?"
"No error messages?"
"What happens when you try to print?"
"OK, then. I'll have a look at it."
"We should set up a Helminthdale Library on Second Life."
"A sort of fantasy library existing in a world completely divorced from reality where we can provide whatever services are required regardless of available resources?"
"Pretty much, yes."
"Just like the real one?"
"We might be able to staff it properly."
Now who said something about a cup of tea?
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
"Could I have tomorrow morning off?"
It's five minutes before end of play and Frog's trying to get Helminthdale Lending sorted, cash disposed off and then himself ready for tomorrow morning's children's holiday event at Umpty. Quite sensibly, he doesn't feel inclined to dig out tomorrow's rota, check out the availability of cover and then ring round to try and catch somebody who could go out first thing.
"Is it an emergency?"
"No. I was just thinking it would be nice to have the morning off."
Luckily, Kelsey's a fairly laid-back sort and doesn't take it amiss when the answer's no.
"You could get shut of all that old rubbish in the reference section," I suggest. "There's stuff in the booksale that's younger than that."
"Yeah but I'm not allowed to do stock-editing* so I'm stuck with it."
"Have a chat with Milton about it."
"And don't worry about the other stuff. Get what you can onto the shelves and hold the rest back in reserve. With a bit of luck you're going to need to replenish the stock a few weeks after you've opened and people have denuded the shelves. And if not, well for once we actually know the true status of the stock so we know where it is and why. Given that more of Helminthdale Central's stock was in boxes than on loan when I did the CIPFA stats in April I shouldn't worry overly much about up to a dozen boxes."
Of course, some idiot will make a big deal of it, just before the library opens, but we'll ignore that bridge when we come to it.
* This is a story for another day, possibly nearer to Christmas when the dust has settled across the Borough. Possibly.
At no point in the flight did Norma say that she worked for Helminthdale Council.
"They've been sent to Epiphany," says Maisie.
"But there was a couple of dozen chairs there already."
"Well they've got three dozen now. And nine extra shelf units because T.Aldous doesn't like the colour of the first nine because he reckons they're beech not maple."
There are three Captain Bird's-Eye looky-likeys in the bus station. Two are wearing thick fisherman's sweaters. One character is actually wearing a fisherman's smock! They'll be up for to linger round Marks & Spencers this lunchtime.
An interesting old couple were walking down the Pardendale Road. She was wearing a thick woolly decorated with pictures of timber wolves. He was wearing German Army issue Norway Campaign snow camouflage gear, which went very well with his magnificent white beard.
Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu!
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Even so, Betty and Noreen tell me not to put up a notice on the wall saying:
Please come over here and steal things
Reluctantly, I behave myself.
"You've added £600 to my project cost."
"You should have ordered what we asked for and made sure that that was what they delivered then,"
replied Thelma in her best "in twenty years' time I'm going to be a right stroppy old cow" voice.
Anyway, they're in and they're up and they look very nice. Unfortunately, having started unpacking some of the fiction and putting it on the shelves there's an urgent message. Despite the fact that the specification was for four shelves per unit; and the fact that each unit has four shelves; the loading braces can only take the weight of three shelves' worth of books.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
"You don't mind me taking your cup, do you? Maybelle's giving out cups for completing the six-book challenge and I didn't buy enough.
I just catch myself in time before I suggest that she could give them the Easter eggs that were never bought for the children's competition.
"We had these two Aussies come in. They'd travelled over from Leicester because they needed to go to the Australian Embassy. They'd walked all around the housing estate but couldn't find it."
It's a measure of the fearsome reputation of the average Australian that they'd wandered round Senebene unmolested. Nugent gently pointed them London way.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
"Dammit, man! What have I told you? That's just how Jerry will catch you out if you're not careful!"
The speakers were two middle-aged ladies.
I apologise in advance to any of you who ring our Regional Library Service and get the reply:
"Ich bin auslander, nicht verstahen."
"It's a right mess..."
"It's the tidiest I've ever seen it," I reply.
For once I'm not taking the piss. OK, it's a building site. But it isn't a building site with a disintegrated floor and a threadbare carpet (imagine putting a ropy bit of thin hessian matting on a sand dune and you'd have it exactly right), nor a load of derelict steel and mahongany-style-deal-offcuts shelving leaning at 5° towards the sunlight.
"And where are you off to, little girl?"
"I'm buying sweeties in works time."
"The family literacy group's coming in tomorrow and I'll be giving them sweeties with their certificates for completing the six-book challenge."
Well done all. And best of luck getting the petty cash form signed by Mary!
We find a plan of the furniture to be installed. One of the many puzzles of the place is: how come we have half an acre of library building yet the console for the public catalogue terminal obstructs the walkway into the counter?
The counter itself has a few surprises, too. For once the cable management system seems to include holes in the partitions for the cables to go through (this is a first). We just need some ports drilling in the top and we're then theoretically OK. Though there is one port already: slap-bang in the middle of the counter, well away from any of the cable management and dead centre in plan view.
Monday, August 18, 2008
"Who's doing the cashing up in Lending this afternoon? Bronwyn went up and did it this morning before she went out to the storytime at Senebene and she doesn't want to have to hang on to end of play today. I could do it, I suppose, but I'm trying to get my flexi-time down to single figures."
"Well it isn't my job," says Mary, "and I'm trying to get my own hours down, too... I suppose I'll have to do it."
Mary, Frog and Bronwyn are all entirely justified in being pissed off about this. Bronwyn the more so because she also had to go up and sort out today's rota for this half of the Borough before she went out.
Oh, and in between covering events at Raccoonville and Grimley libraries, Frog's spending lunchtime covering the enquiry desk.
There are three layers of operational management upstairs in Lending:
- The Counter Supervisor vacancy created when Maybelle got her new job;
- Two and a half Assistant Librarians, including the vacancy created when Bronwyn got her new job and the one caused by Lola's maternity leave; and
- The Group Librarian, Doreen.
Salome, the sole remaining Assistant Librarian for this half of the Borough, doesn't work today and nothing's been done by Doreen to make sure that there are enough bodies to keep the doors open and that they have change for the till, which moneys will be put away safely at the end of the day.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that twelve new chairs, in their wrapping, joining the throng. No idea where they're going.
There's no way we could have "Little Miss Retard" on our shelves. It's not worth the complaints.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Like Mark E. Smith said of the modern music scene: "God help us if there's another war."
You miss out on Mary spending all day trying to get the right-shade-of-pink ribbon for her daughter's hair for a wedding she's going to this weekend, involving the Acq. Team's being on the receiving end of four 'phone calls on the subject from said child (who's pushing 30).
And the Acq. Team's picking up two 'phone calls for T.Aldous from "Joan the Infidel," who in the end turns out to be T.Aldous' wife (who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?)
But I've not missed out on everything. Rosy Denshaw has just come in to show off her new child.
"He's a bit big isn't he?" I ask.
"I'm coming back off maternity leave next month."
The little mite crawls his way into my office for a look round and promptly throws up on the floor. He shows some sense, then.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
We've already had a backlash from the training bra commandos:
"What do you mean, 'Boys Into Books?'"They get even more terrifying once they're old enough to get tattoos.
"It's to encourage boys to read more."
"You should buy more books for girls if they read more. There's no point buying books for boys 'cos they're too thick to read."
Daisy Dormouse replies that there isn't any point as the library assistants would only be covering in the company of Daisy or Wendy, though "we can't do our jobs and always be in the reference library." Daisy's suggestion is that instead of training staff a brand new post should be created to do the job.
I don't know what colour their clouds are over there.
Bronwyn bumped into the early days of a "leave it with me," the strategem I forgot when I was cataloguing the long grass gambits. Her response was lovely.
"This will cost as much as any one of the reference books we buy for upstairs and that nobody actually ever looks at."
We just know there'll be an administrative snafu and another one hundred and fifty boxes will turn up tomorrow morning.
Some of the branch libraries are already complaining that they've got too many new books. And we haven't hardly started spending this year's book fund yet!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Another gem from our IT section. This morning I rang to ask if they could reboot one of our servers for me. I have been told I can't ring someone directly down there who might understand what I want and simply go and perform such a straightforward task, I have to ring the unhelpful desk or whatever they are calling themselves this week. Of course they had to make out a "ticket", or work out how to make a "ticket" as they didn't seem to know. Sort of got a bit exasperated when they asked me for the badge number of the server, "it is down there, how do I know?"
Protestations to the effect that if I was near enough to read the badge number I was certainly near enough, and able enough, to reboot the thing fell on deaf ears. Having then pointed out I could have walked down there and rebooted it myself in the time it was taking to complete the "ticket" eventually he went away to find out how to reboot said server.
Quite efficiently once they had rebooted server I got an e-mail asking for feedback. THEY WANT FEEDBACK ON HOW WELL THEY PERFORMED IN REBOOTING A SERVER.
"I noticed that one of the books in the book sale was a signed copy from one of the author events a few years ago. I told them: 'this is a signed copy and there are people who collect this author. You want to make sure that it's not defaced before going into the booksale so that it's a more attractive proposition.'
"And do you know what? They stamped 'WITHDRAWN FROM STOCK' right over the fucking signature. That's what. How can they do that?!?"
I have no answer save the blindingly obvious.
I'm at Epiphany to deliver some equipment and get a sense of what needs doing next from my perspective (and to give a sense of how likely I am to do it). Luckily, Thelma's fairly level-headed, if a bit wayward with her cultural references*. Which is just as well, given her baptism of fire with Helminthdale Council's Buildings Project Management Team, the bane of T.Aldous' life.
"Have you seen this?"
"What is it?"
"I asked the Buildings Project Manager for a whiteboard. This is what he sent me."
"What is it?"
"It's a board painted white."
And so it is.
* we are not naming the computers after 1990s grunge bands
This is library project management at its best: the library's finally handed over, two months late, and the library's staff aren't allowed to ready it for opening because they've got to provide cover at Helminthdale Central. Any other place, the question would be: can we free up some staff to provide an extra hand or two in getting things sorted? Apparently it doesn't occur to anybody to wonder how Helminthdale Central would be keeping its doors open if Epiphany wasn't closed for building work. Or, indeed, how anywhere would be open if the central library at Catty wasn't also closed fo repairs. So much for all the loose talk we had at the beginning of the summer about taking steps to free up staff for service development projects.
Friday, August 08, 2008
The saloon bar singalong in the staff room was a bit much, though.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
"Not another Horrid Henry!"
"I sent in exactly the same application as the previous twelve times. I got an interview each time but this time I was told that I was unsuccessful. I was told that I had not addressed the job specification."
And so he had. Each time, he stuck a photocopy of his original application to his form and wrote: "see attached." Unfortunately, this time he didn't notice that the job specification had been rewritten to reflect recent changes in the service.
A lesson for us all: always read the instructions.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
"It's stuck. It won't move past '21'"I have a look at the counter. It says 5221. I do my quick impression of the Trooping of the Colour and yes, it still says 21: 8221.
I take it off the wall and put it back on the right way up: 1228
Our 3rd largest branch library recently moved to a temporary location while the original building was refurbished, lift out in and generally DDAed. The temporary location is smaller thus they couldn’t fit all the stock on the shelves, so in highly scientific fashion whichever box they unpacked first went on the shelves, none of this we need some 641s as they get borrowed, if there were no 641s in the boxes they opened there were no 641s put on the shelves.
"What do we do with the stuff which we haven’t room for?" They inevitably asked.
I advised that they transfer them to one of our redundant locations so it wouldn’t show on the catalogue, and then store it somewhere.
This apparently involved too much effort, so they decided without consultation with anyone that they would distribute it around other branches in the group AND withdraw stock to make room for it.
The slight flaw in this solution seems to have escaped them, as now it is coming time to move back they have realised they haven’t enough stock to fill the shelves, that they can’t empty the shelves of the branches they sent the stuff to as the items they unnecessarily withdrew aren’t available to go back, and they haven’t a cue what the stock gaps are, the ones they caused by being so unscientific about what they unpacked in the first place.
Apparently, and this is the best bit, they have now decided it is someone else’s problem to sort.
Mary had collected together her lieutenants - Bronwyn, Maybelle, Nancy and Frog - to review workloads and projects for the next couple of weeks. Starting off with a quick review of what they're doing at the moment:
- Bronwyn - umpteen reading activities, four author visits, getting five trolleyloads of donations onto the catalogue and distributed, and giving Frog and the Acq. Team a hand with the latest batch Book Off books (a doddle this week, just the thirty boxes), and helping Maybelle with a couple of family literacy events with the local Asian community.
- Maybelle - the above-mentioned family literacy events, a couple of presentations and membership recruitment sessions to families of asylum seekers, a stock-edit of the Portuguese books in the outreach collection, and giving Frog a hand with the materials for a poetry event at Dutch Bend.
- Frog - the summer reading game, the summer holiday events and activities programme, BookStart, SureStart, Book Off, Book You, Booking Hell, et al.
- Nancy - "nowt really."
This was the day after Mary sprung the Sheep City poetry day on Frog. He brought along the mock-up of the activities he planned on delivering, including drafts of the material he was going to use with the children.
Mary could scarcely contain her indifference.
Maybelle, who usually presents as being very laid-back and easy-going (she isn't, but she presents as such very convincingly) was bouncing off the walls afterwards. It's difficult to know if she's the more pissed off with Mary or nancy.
The good news is that we still have very committed staff out there in the branch libraries. Absolutely shattered, but committed. Only one branch library was less busy than the main libraries, and we arrived there at the end of a very long day. Kids were drawing, reading, writing, talking, making things and having their faces painted. Grown-ups were reading, writing, talking, using the computers, helping the kids, helping the staff. And the staff were running round like blue-arsed flies making sure that everyone was being looked after and trying to provide as good a service as you can when you're out-numbered by customers twenty-to-one.
Which makes me wonder how on earth we would have coped had we not a main library and a full-time branch library closed for building works.
One of the Branch Managers mentioned, in passing, that this summer's holiday activities are a bit on the thin side. I pointed out that there are good reasons for this:
- Frog's working alone, with the same budget as in 1993 when six people were involved in the planning and delivery of the summer holiday programme.
- There weren't any planning meetings this year because Julia didn't see why two of the Assitant Librarians from her side of the borough were involved but none from Doreen's side of the borough. Julia has five Assistant Librarians. Doreen has one Assistant Librarian, another on Maternity, a vacancy and a vacant post that has been axed to save a bit of money.
- When Frog asked Doreen and Julia to make sure that staff would be available to support activities. He was told: "don't assume that staff will be available."
- Mary's signed us up to six or seven Reading Agency programmes (we're not sure which, they're a blur) which involve our getting something like eleven thousand books for kids all at once, to be distributed in set ways in set blocks and with stickies and stuff.
- And since T.Aldous and Mary let the funding for the BookStart project manager lapse all the administration and distribution work of getting umpteen hundred BookStart Treasure Boxes out to the deserving public has gone his way. But there's no administrative work involved in BookStart, oh no...
- And then there's the project T.Aldous accidentally signed us up for to encourage young men to read books...
- And Sheep City's summer holiday events brochure includes Frog's doing a day-long poetry workshop, which came as a shock because they forgot to ask him to do it.
Cattermole Street Library came as a hell of a shock.
Normally it looks the very picture of a cheerful disorganisation of activity. The other day it looked like a place under siege. Everything: trollies full of returned books, dump bins, boxes of new stock, craft materials for kids and Team Read materiel, was pulled together at the counter like a motte-and-bailey castle. The end of a long day of holiday activities, reading groups and workaday stuff in a busy, single-staffed library. Lily, the Branch Manager, gamely waves a white hankie and asks for fainites.
Milton's almost as shocked as me and resolves to have a quiet word with somebody about giving Lily a hand some time.
He'll probably be told "not to assume that staff are available."
For some reason, when the contractors relaid the concrete floor they left a one-foot square rough patch.
"It was there before we came,"
the Clerk of Works tells T.Aldous. What he doesn't say is that there was also umpteen hundred square feet of rotted, sandy concrete but they covered that over.
Equally inexplicitly, the building's handed over without having had the gas meter installed. Doreen and Thelma were on site all Monday to wait for the gas man, taking the opportunity to start tidying things up a bit. The gas man duly arrived.
He'd forgotten to bring the gas meter.
Back on Tuesday ("some time between 8am and 6pm," as we all know and love). Seth's turn to hang about. The Clerk of Works popped in his head through the door (to check out the concrete footings which already look a bit iffy)(and to ignore the paint spillages in the entrance to the library).
"Can I borrow your mobile?" he asks.
"So's I can ring the gas man to let me know when he's coming. I'm just working up the road."
"Why aren't you waiting here for him then?"
"I've got work to do."
"So have I, mate."
"That's your job mate."
Imagine Seth's delight a couple of hours later when he noticed the Clerk of Works and the gas man, parked up in their vans in the car park, talking to each other on their mobiles. He suggested that they might want to get the job done and dusted.
Looking good so far.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Unfortunately, this does mean that Betty and Noreen end up taking the occasional peculiar 'phone call from our occasional peculiar librarians. The council's increasingly flaky internet connection fell over earlier than usual this morning, leading to this conversation between Noreen and Lettie at Dutch Bend:
It amuses me to hear librarians moaning that they're not allowed to take authority and make decisions.
"Is Kevin in?"
"He'll be in in about ten minutes. Do you want me to take a message?"
"I was on the internet when I clicked a link and the screen said I wasn't allowed to access this web site because it was deemed unsuitable by the IT Section. So I tried going back and I got the same message. Who are these people to say that I'm not allowed on the internet."
"Oh dear. I know this one. It's what usually happens when the internet connection goes down at lunchtime."
"But it says I'm not allowed on the internet."
"Do you want me to take a message and get Kevin to get back to you?"
"Why have they banned me from using the internet?"
"The connection's gone down. I could get Kevin to report it to the help desk if you want."
"Can't I report it to the help desk."
"If you want. Or, you could wait ten minutes and have Kevin do it for you."
"Are you telling me I can't report it to the help desk myself?"
"No. I'm just saying that if you don't want to, you can wait ten minutes and talk to Kevin about it."
"So I am able to report it to the help desk."
"If you want to."
"Well, what should I do then?"
"Perhaps you want to report it to the help desk."
"Are you saying I'm allowed to do that?"
"If that's what you decide you want to do..."
Monday, August 04, 2008
"My God. Given the choice between spending a day talking management bullshit with librarians and ten minutes with people from the sports centres, I'd take the librarians every time. Utter, utter shite. They keep banging on about addressing the needs of the customers and being customer-oriented and all that bullshit, all the time making damned sure that they don't go anywhere near anyone or anything actually providing a service to the poor bloody public. What a bunch of tossers!"
"Are they doing the numbers?"
"I'll say. And they've half an eye on getting the council to move the Library Service into the Trust."
"We weren't good enough for them before. I dare say we're good enough now that the golf club's made yet another big hole in the budget. I am right in thinking that the golf club's in the red again?"
"I couldn't possibly comment."
"It was the pavillion last year. An 'accounting anomaly' the year before. What's this year's?"
"I could't possibly comment."
"I'll bet it's half a million."
"I'll have to go now. Have fun."
That's all we need: getting manœuvered into becoming the financial milch-cows for the council's crappy leisure services again, just when we're finally recovered from years of that nonsense.
They've survived months of neglect only to end their lives in darkness.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Take, for instance, the example of a community pig being fed scraps for to be fattened up for slaughter...
"The poor bugger wouldn't last a week. It would starve to death before our managers decided what type of swill we would buy."
"Then we'd have to send it back because it was the wrong side of brown."
"Yeah, like we'd be that organised."
"How do you mean?"
"What would really happen is that we'd be going about our business when somebody'd come along and say: 'Drop everything and rush through an urgent order for a pig. The slaughterman's waiting outside."
They must have thought they were going to see some boxes. Perhaps from a place called Spiders.
Frog was asked to investigate the health and safety risks involved in the incident.
was the stern reply.
I've been thinking about Ken Barmy's saying that he still wants to change the world. I see his point about changing the world. I mentioned this to my counsellor the other day and she asked me if I wasn't just setting myself impossible goals. I heard myself reply:
"There isn't a lot in this world that really is impossible, if you think about it."
Which is true enough. Think about it: people are turning water into wine every day of the week; they're using vines and vats and time to make the miracle but the miracle they make. And we all of us change the world, all the time, for good or bad. It's all a matter of scale and time and expectation.
I can change the world, and I can change the Library Service. I'm just going about it the wrong way. I've come to the conclusion that I can't do it by being 'nice,' though I'd hope I wouldn't stoop to some of the nonsense that goes on.
In the midst of my mulling this over, Jim took me to one side.
"I've news for you..."
"I've got another job. I've just put in my notice."
"Funnily enough, that's what Milton said."
"Have you told T.Aldous."
"Funnily enough he helped me with the application form."
We'll have to have a sweepstakes on when, if ever, his job gets advertised. There's a whole future ahead of us; we could do with disinterring the world's biggest whiteboard to do the honours.
Friday, August 01, 2008
There's a hell of a lot to be catching up with over the weekend...
Have fun yourselves.