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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cobblers to Queen Victoria

There's probably a more productive way of spending quarter of an hour at work than helping Frog work out a way to fit a Prince Albert onto Benton Kinky the new bondage bear. There just isn't one readily to hand at the moment.

You probably don't recognise me without my cape

Maybelle's Amazonian claim is picked up on by Sibyl and Frog, who are feeling michevious. I'm in no mood to fight the flow.

"You'd be no good as an Amazon," says Sibyl, who has a classical education. "They had to have one of their breasts lopped off so that they'd be better able to draw a bow and arrow. You wouldn't want that: you'd be walking round with a list."

"It didn't do Wonder Woman any harm," I point out.

"It's the star-spangled knickers," says Sibyl.

"You don't have the star-spangled knickers as well do you Maybelle?"

"You'd only get distracted," she replies. Which is true.

"I'm Junoesque,"

continues Maybelle, spotting when she's on a roll.

Awaiting the change

I've noticed that the High Street banks' strategy for spending out of the recession is to withdraw all the five pound notes so that we have to buy things whenever we need change of a twenty pound note. The result is that people like me end up with thirty one pound coins in his pocket and a consequent list to starboard when they put their jackets on.

I was whingeing about this when Maybelle suddenly perks up:

"Oooh! I'll have twenty pounds coins off you! It'll save me having to queue at the bank again this week."

It turns out that since the council upped the parking rates as part of its encouraging-green-living-and-nothing-to-do-with-the-budget-deficit programme, the weekly parking permits cost £20. But the council's ticket machines don't take notes.

"So you lug around a purse full of twenty-odd pound coins?" I ask.

"It's no problem for me. I am an Amazon."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I found another verse in the Methodist hymn book

A bad afternoon at work, which I'll tell you about in a couple of months when the fuss has died down.

To cap it all: Frog and Bronwyn have started singing Cowboy Campfire Carols around the photocopier.

Each had his portmanteau in his hand

A bit of a dampener on Friday night's leaving do for Cosmo. All but one of the party turned up well in time for the meal and so weren't best pleased at having to wait a further thirty-five minutes for the final member to drift up. Especially as T.Aldous lives closest to the restaurant. Still... no show without Punch.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pedalling our way down the road of life

T.Aldous is trying to get some stuff shifted from here over to the old Roadkill Library (which by rights should be part of a dual carriageway by now) and some other stuff shifted from Dutch Bend to Catty in preparation for it joining a pile of other stuff coming back here for no apparent reason. The problem is that Kevin the van driver has got a full itinerary for today as he's taking piles of boxes to each and every library in the Borough (we're a public library, we buy new books, honest!) and is then filling in for the nursing homes runs in Carbootsale and Umpty. T.Aldous is struggling with the logistics.

"I can't see why it takes him so long to go round the nursing homes in Umpty."

Says the man who does the ten minute run down Pardendale Road in never less than forty minutes.

Libraries as centres for leisure activities

Seth is seen carrying something on the end of a very long stick. It is a used condom, found in the Reference Library lift lobby. It excites comment amongst the staff.

"Yeugh! Fancy making love in a lift!"

"Have you never done it?"

I think I would, given the right opportunity. I have fond memories of adolescent fumblings in the reserve stacks of a research library.

There's an air of outrage in the Reference Library. You'd think they'd be glad that somebody's come up with a use for the library that doesn't involve them having to go to the enquiry desk to ask for service.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And we're stuck inside here doing a stupid panto

It's a bit early for getting dragged into Christmas politics and I'm disinclined to get involved now.

The Assistant Librarians generally have their own Christmas do, but they've not been much in evidence lately and haven't gotten on well in the process. So they've not organised one.

Lola's back from maternity leave and mentions this to Bronwyn. Bronwyn, being of practical mind, suggests that she joins Frog and the Acq. Team in their do. The problem is that nobody knows when it is. Lola comes and asks me:

"When's this Christmas lunch?"

"I can't remember off the top of my head."

"Why wasn't I invited in the first place?"

"You weren't around to ask."

"I'll bet it's not going to be on a day when I'm at work."

"You're not coming over to me late on a Friday afternoon to pick a fight about a Christmas dinner. Now fuck off and go and have a fight with somebody else."

Ho bloody ho.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mickey Mouse is eighty this week

Maudie's been instructed to order twenty-seven mouse mats for Catty Library. I have no idea why they might need twenty-seven mouse mats: they don't have and won't have twenty-seven PCs in the building. Now they've arrived there's a bit of a to-do. The price quoted in the procurement system is £2.50 (!) but they've come in at £3.15 (!!!) Maudie's all for sending them back, the Procurement section is all for renegotiating the price. And I'm all for keeping well out of it.


The council's preferred supplier isn't prepared to sell us a Christmas tree at the moment.

"In case the price goes up because of the shortage."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not being cynical at all

Cosmo, who's been covering at Roadkill Library, is leaving us shortly to join somebody else's circus. I get a 'phone call from Daisy Duck at Dutch Bend.

"Can you do me a favour? Could you put a collection envelope on the table for Cosmo? I've been busy with a pile of other things lately and it's only just occurred to me that nobody will have organised a collection."

"Surely his line manager would have organised that already?"

My, how we laughed.

I'll be leader, you can march behind

Frog, Maybelle and I are in a meeting to discuss a few pieces of work we're working on. Frog mentions some problems he's having getting the use of a room in Sheep City as a venue for an event next year. I ask the obvious question:

"Why does it need to be at Sheep City?"

"When Mary and I talked it through it was obvious that upstairs here wasn't an option."

"Couldn't any other library do?"

"We had that workshop for playgroups at Tench Road last May and the turnout for that was really disappointing."

"That is on the further reaches of the Borough, though, isn't it?"

"Why not have it at Noddy?" asks Maybelle. "It's attached to the community centre so we can have sessions after library hours; it's got a bus stop just outside on the main road; and a huge car park."

"We've tried having late night events in the branches but... I'm turning into Mary, aren't I? Sorry. I'll check it out and see if that's a possible."

This comes as a relief: I'd made a note to have a chat with him about this point after the meeting. I hope that if I ever go that way he'd do similar.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Heavy breathing

Milton's been getting earache again about the Champions for Change. He's holding firm but getting browned off in the process.

"Courage, mon brave," I tell him, "one volunteer is worth ten pressed men."

Sybil and Lippy overhear this and are up in arms.

"If we're pressing men, why aren't we getting a go?"

Please let me sleep on your doorstep tonight

Milton and Seth are going over to Catty Library to shift some stuff in and other stuff out. And perhaps even shaking it about a bit. They make the mistake of mentioning it to T.Aldous as they're putting their coats on.

"Hang on a minute, I'll come with you. I just need to make myself a pot of tea."

Half an hour later they're still kicking their heels.

That's the place for fun and noise

Now that folk have decamped into the management suite and finally cleared up after themselves we're into the process of turning a couple of the offices into meeting rooms, to replace the meeting room that was turned into the management suite. It's down near to the Children's Reserve Stock shelves so Frog's taken to calling it Kiddies Korner and has stuck of a mock notice to that effect.

This has gone down badly with Mary, who's In Charge of the shifting round. But, typically of this place, instead of saying anything to Frog she says something to Bronwyn. And later on something to Noreen. And later on to Maudie...

I think these whispering condemnations are hilarious. When they're indirected my way I crack on daft and pretend I don't know that anything's been being said. By the purest coincidence I may innocently intensify the offence or accidentally remind the offended that they are aggrieved. Frog, on the other hand gets quite wound up. The practical effect is the same: he's determined that instead of letting the joke get stale and walk away after a week or two he's forever going to refer to this room at Kiddie Korner.

Word is, Mary's determined that this is going to be Meeting Room One. Which is odd as there's already two meeting rooms in the building.

Only wearing black until they make something darker

It's an interesting time in the Acq. Team. They're mired in the pre-Christmas rush of orders, reference subscription renewals, the latest panic buy for Catty Library and preparations for getting the vacancy they've been carrying for four years advertised and, perhaps, even filled.

"How's things?" I ask Noreen when she's on her own and it's quiet.

"Oh, the usual. It'll be alright, it's under control. As far as anything ever is under control round here. The one thing that's really making my life a real misery at the moment is that thing."

She motioned over to the cupboard in the corner.

"That's the cassette player they use for rewinding talking books. I don't know why they have to put it in our area, just because that's where the electricity points are."

When somebody is so determined to make such a mountain from such a molehill the safest thing to do is to sigh and walk away quietly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I'd meant to pick up on one of Lavinia's comments the other week asking what constitutes an emergency in a library, as they're pretty sedate places. Unfortunately, they're also very public places and so anything that could happen to or by the public probably has happened in a public library somewhere or other. We're a fairly humdrum (OK, then, very humdrum) small northern town with the usual small northern town issues so the emergencies we've had so far this year have either been medical (a few fits, a suspected angina attack and a self-harming dramatist), criminal (a fistfight between two groups of youths) or building emergencies (bricks through windows; a roof suddenly deciding not to be rainproof any more with hilarous consequences; someone flooding the lending library by jamming a pile of paperbacks into a lavatory bowl and flushing repeatedly, that sort of thing). It's not every day, thank God! but quite often enough for even us to realise the importance of having things like panic alarms in single-staffed libraries.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ah yes...

The Assistant Librarians take turns to do stock selection for the whole borough. Which explains the tone in this email from Daisy Dormouse to the others:

I asked Julia if we shouldn't be buying stock for Catty Library now it looks like being open before Christmas. She said that we have been doing for some time now. Do you think we should be improving our communications mechanisms somewhat?

Lies, damned lies and statistics

I did the CIPFA statistics at the beginning of April and was thoroughly depressed by the proportion of the stock stuck in boxes rather than on shelves or on loan.

I little knew how bad things were. I've just started working my way through some of the boxes that have been sitting in a corner here for the past fifteen months. According to the library catalogue they're all on the shelves...

A rock 'n' roll Val Doonican

We've been given an agreeably large amount of money to launch the new children's audio collection (which is the old children's audio collection with a pile of new stuff from the Book Off project). Frog suggests getting in somebody he's seen at a Children's Librarians' workshop in Birmingham: they're very good advocates for children's libraries with a good line in entertaining anecdotes and a name that might be worth dropping in the local and professional presses. We can get him and a big launch party well within budget. The boy's done well. He presents his ideas to Mary.

"Ooh, it's a lot of money..."

She'd prefer getting someone cheap and local. Which make me wonder just what she'd do with the remainder of the launch money. (The question's rhetorical.I know the answer is 'nothing.')

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gallic flavour

We none of us trust the Direct Works Buttermilk soap in the gent's toilets so we bring in our own antiseptic handwash. Which explains why we've had the same cake of soap in there for two years. I hadn't realised it was so long. Frog reckons we'll have to buy another cake of soap so that people don't mistake us for Frenchmen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's hard to tell the difference when they take their hats off

Like me, you may wonder why we've got so many boxes full of books hanging around backstage for years on end. Here's a clue or two:
  • Over there's a trolley full of books. It's the same trolley full of the same books that's been lurking round the place since April. It's stock from the old Roadkill Library site to be transferred to other libraries. It's all newish paperback fiction that wouldn't fit on the shelves when they moved house and a pile of non-fiction that they didn't fancy (they're coffee table books about living in the Victorian age, the Tudors, Ancient Egypt, tropical rainforests, global warming, walks around the Lake Distrct, real obscure-niche material that there would be no demand for in a public library). This stock was sent here to be dealt with because Daisy, who's responsible for Roadkill, said she didn't have time to deal with them. Seeing as there wasn't anybody here at the time to deal with them (literally: Salome was the only remaining full-time Assitant Librarian but was on leave and Lola was on maternity leave) the stuff stayed in boxes. Eventually, Seth kicked off about the number of boxes lying about and Andi was given the job of sorting a dozen of them out. She did this by putting a couple of boxes' worth onto trolleys which she'd leave lurking about the building "being worked on" for weeks or months on end. This is the last of those trolleys (Lola and Bronwyn got shut of the others).
  • Another strategy for dealing with the boxes is to put somebody else's name on them. Lola's come back from maternity leave to find seven boxes of stock for transfer jammed under her desk. Each is labelled: Dutch Bend Helminthdale Salome Andi Posy Andi Posy Andi Salome Lola.

I've lost patience with the bloody trolley. I've just done the lot and it took me fifty minutes.

Give it a dose of Quaker oats

I ring Catty to try and find out whether or not anybody there knows where they've decided they want their PCs to go. Hetty answers and is annoyed to find out why they've not been set up yet.

"Just out of morbid curiosity... what's the current delay in reopening the library?"

"The tables aren't high enough."

"Tell me no more, I'm frightened to learn it."

Nowt but a dishcloth and a sugar bag

Lupin went over to Catty Library yesterday to set up the computers. We've no idea when the library's going to be reopening for business (we've been reshelving it for the past month) but he's determined that this time he's not going to be doing everything at the last minute. It won't be easy. He didn't manage to finish the job yesterday...

"Do you know where the computers are going?" he asks me.

"Roughly. Generally speaking, we're putting them where the people at Catty told Milton they had to go."

"That's good. I was tripping over the things and when I asked them where they were going they said they didn't know."

This doesn't bode well for the way the place is going to work when it's open.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Looking for a nine-foot square Monopoly board

Visiting Ken Barmy in his lair I am astonished to find that he's got a whiteboard the size of a wall behind his desk.

"Who's got the world's biggest whiteboard now?"

he crows. I can only gape.

"Isn't it brilliant? I'm astonished I've got away with it."


"They asked me if I wanted anything. I said I'd like a whiteboard please. They said to measure it up and get it ordered. And so... Well, here it is."

"What are you going to do with it now you've got it?"

"I shall draw pictures of Susannah York running barefoot through dewy meadows."

"They'll not be pleased with you for doing that."

"Don't see why not. It would be one of the more constructive things going on round here at the moment."

It's all I can do to hide my envy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ecstasy, Bruce, ecstasy

Mary's going over to a presentation at the Fire Station.

"If anyone asks, I'm just getting changed and putting on some perfume," she tells me.

I thought she was kidding right up to the point when she walked past me on her way out. Well, at least there'll be no naked flames.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The tragedy of a man with an absent mind

Milton's got his coat on.

"Run for the hills!"

he tells me and Mary

"T.Aldous is working on a document and I just heard him tell Maudie that he doesn't know how to cut and paste!"

Brooding on the infinite

As part of our ongoing change process we have set up a Champions For Change Group. One of Jim's last acts before scuttling off for the Swiss border was to ask for volunteers for the group. Gratifyingly enough, a good sized number volunteered and they represent every tier in the hierarchy and every section in the service. This is really good news and they're all really enthusiastic and everything.

So this is, of course, a problem.

Milton has been asked the killer questions:

"It isn't fair: why do they get to be in the group? How do we make sure that other people get their turn?"

"It isn't fair: why should the people who want to volunteer to be champions for change be allowed to be champions for change?" Childish nonsense. What the hell is the point of conscripting somebody to be an advocate for something? "It isn't fair!" Poppycock.

Milton is trying to frame a suitable response to the question. Mine would be two words.

Ladies and gentlemen, and Tiddles the cat

Kitty O'Shaunessy's been working in the Local Studies Library since Dan Leno was a lad. She's retiring next month so we're having a collection for her retirement present.

Imagine the consternation when it is discovered that the tin that had been labelled for this collection has been re-labelled by T.Aldous for the collection for to pay for the wine and nutes he bought the convalescent Warner. We now debate whether or not to carbon-date the fingerprints on the coins to determine which collection they were for.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Son of Splat!!!

What is it with this place? A young lad (OK, a yoof) has just wandered into the lending library, sat down at a table and started doing some coursework. He was doing no harm to anyone whatsoever, and was obviously of a polite disposition as he asked a passing member of staff:

"It is OK for me to sit here and do my coursework isn't it?"

"Ooh, I don't know. I'll have to check."


"Sorry, they say you've got to go upstairs to the reference library."

I'm sure I read something about Policy Team writing a Customer Welcome Strategy recently...


We currently don't require that customers using the People's Network computers are members of the library, though we would like them to join and gain the many benefits therefrom. Our reference librarians can make people members of the library as they do so once in a while so that they can issue one or other obscenely-expensive reference book to People In The Know. (Yes, these are the reference librarians who hide the newspapers under the enquiry desk so that customers can't steal them).

T.Aldous bumped into a couple struggling to get a pram and two babies up the stairs to the library because they wanted to use a computer to check their emails. He guided them to the lift, made sure it was going up to the reference library and told them to ask for a computer at the enquiry desk.

A few minutes later, he was passing the lift and the family was coming out. He was, naturally, a bit surprised and asked if all the computers were busy.

No. They'd been told that they "needed to go downstairs to join the library" before they could use a computer.

To his immense credit, T.Aldous took them back up to the library, got them onto a PC and gave them a membership form, a new user pack and a lot of spin about the services in our libraries.

I can't help thinking that a hard core of our staff wouldn't be happy unless customers weren't allowed on the computers or borrow books at all, just so that they could make sure that we could guarantee to be able to meet demand should it arise (but obviously not guarantee to actually meet it).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Alcohol is not allowed on the fairground ride

Poor old Warner Baxter's laid up after an operation. We quite like him as he's a decent sort and he makes Policy Team say nice things to us when we deserve them. So we were all very happy to sign and send a card and Frog included some suitably doggerelly get-well verse.

Warner's emailed T.Aldous asking him to pass on his thanks to all concerned. Which is really nice.

The gilt is scraped off the gingerbread quite considerably by T.Aldous' hand-written coda:

"Policy Team bought Warner some wine and nuts as a present for when we went round to visit the other day. We didn't have time to put out a tin for staff donations but if you would like to contribute something towards the £14.97 cost of the gift please put it in the tin provided."

"The poor devils must be on their uppers," mutters Sybil.

Can you hear the Trappists sing?

'Phone call from Julia, who's busy lurking at Catty Library well out of the way of T.Aldous.

"I've had a telephone call from the Catty Examiner. How many items do we have in stock here?"

"I'll just check the figures... here we go it's... hello? Is anyone there? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? ..."

I can hear the noises off of Julia wandering round the library messing round with shelves and telling people which boxes to unpack.

I shouted the number.

(eventually) "I can't hear you, what did you say?"

On balance I decided to just repeat the number.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No looking for lamp-posts that aren't there

I'm not even as far as the bloody building before it starts today. I'm just crossing the road when I'm accosted by Ned Grangemouth from Corporate Audit.

"Has Mary asked you about this year's CIPFA figures?"

"Last April, when I did them, yes, why?"

"The Audit Commission's got the numbers from CIPFA and sent them back to us for us to confirm that the numbers are correct before they become set in aspic. I passed on the library figures to Mary and asked her to check that they were OK. She was supposed to be getting back to me but she hasn't yet and I'm getting nervous 'cos tomorrow's the deadline for any queries or appeals."

"Not a sausage."

"If I send you a copy can you have a look?"

"I'll try my best."

So he has and I've had a look and I can't see where some of the numbers are coming from: they're certainly not the numbers I passed on to Jim and Mary in April. Unfortunately, I don't know what numbers were sent to CIPFA in the end as those files aren't in the folders accessible to us other ranks.

I mention the conversation to Mary.

"Oh... I've not had an email about that, I'm sure. I'll log on and check and see if it's come through."

I expect it's in her unread emails folder. All I can do is wash my hands of the affair and wait for the tortuous progress of the auditors next spring.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald of the telecommunications world

A colleague writes:

"Can anybody, even Helminthdale, match a telephone bill 823 pages long? We have just received one. It's for our computerised energy line. A fault on the heating system triggers off a 'phone message to the computer centre who should then deal with the fault. Unfortunately, a second fault at the computer centre means their computer is unaware of the message. So for three long months our heating system has sent a 20 second call to the computer every 10 minutes and for three long months it has been ignored. Unfortunately, no-one can yet trace the cause and so our bill is already mounting. Will it top 823 pages? See next months thrilling installment!

"P.S. We have our phone bills in triplicate for administrative purposes!"

Welcome back for the first time

They're unpacking boxes at Catty and in the process left the front door open while a trolley-load of books was taken out of the library. Sure as eggs, a customer walks into the library. There are two possible scenarios:
  1. Welcome the customer. Explain that the library's not open yet but we're well on the way to getting ready and we hope that he'll find it's been worth the wait. It's going to look good when we've got all the stock on the shelves and done the last of the tidying up. And we're a bit fed up because we wanted to be open well before now but we hit a problem with the floor, which has been resolved and doesn't it look a treat now? remember that awful triple-edged camber? and we're waiting for the builders to sort out the roofing problem over there in the corner where we've been planning to put all the computers. Still, we're getting there and it does look pretty good, doesn't it? And don't forget, Carbootsale Library's just down the road and they're open six days a week while Catty Library's closed. We look forward to seeing you when we're officially open!
  2. Sorry, we're closed. Could you close the door on your way out. Thanks.

Guess which approach was chosen.

Years have rolled on

There is a seasonal element in play here. There is a staffing crisis at Dutch Bend. Catty Library is closed but there are staff in there unpacking boxes ready for an unspecified opening day which is almost certainly going to be postponed because all the putty's fallen out of one of the new windows. You or I, being unthinking amateurs in the ways of the public library, would send one of the staff from Catty to Dutch Bend. Especially if we were Julia, who is both on site at Catty and responsible for both libraries.

Unfortunately for Frog, he's the one who's picked up the message and relayed it to Julia. Who tells him to ring personnel for the 'phone numbers of any staff who may not be working today so that he can ring round for cover.

Mary rescued him in the end: Lippy's going to work extra hours and do the necessary.

Unhand me, Colonel Brandyballs!

Seth and Alwyn have been issued with new walkie-talkies and, as suggested by the health & safety inspectors, we also have spares scattered strategically about the building so that people can be contacted in the event of an emergency or when the kettle's boiled. We're not sure of the coverage, though, so Seth's spent half an hour first thing testing them in different parts of the building.

I'd completely forgotten about this. And that one of the beasts was sitting on top of my in-tray. Imagine my surprise when a voice by my ear says:

"This is Funf speaking..."

It turns out that we share a frequency with the security guards in one of the big shops in the shopping centre. They think it's hilarious, which is probably why every so often you'll hear a voice from some distant part of the room saying:

"Luke, I am your father."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Share and share alike

I mentioned job-sharing the other day. I thought it might be useful to explain how we do job-sharing in Helminthdale Library Service.

Elsewhere in the world, including Helminthdale Council, of which we are part, job-sharing is two or more people doing the one and the same job. One job, two or more people. I won't labour this further. In the Library Service, job-sharing is a bit more complicated than this.

For instance, Katie and Lola are both job-shares. But they each have a non-existant job-share partner because those halves of the posts have been allowed to wither unfilled on the vine. So, in effect, they are each doing a full-time job in half a week.

On the other hand, Daisy Dormouse and Wendy Muffplaster job-share the same post. Except that Daisy is responsible for Roadkill Library and Wendy is responsible for Noddy Library. In Daisy's half of the week Noddy is left to fend. And in Wendy's half of the week, Roadkill is left to fend.

And at Catty, Posy and Andi job-share the same post. Except that Posy is responsible for adult lending and Andi is responsible for children's.

So it's all dead easy really.

When mistletoe was one and six a yard

I told Frog about last night's home-time conversation. He reminds me why I'm glad I'm not a teacher or a children's librarian.

"I was walking down the road about a month ago when I noticed that an attractive young girl had stopped and was smiling at me.

"'Hello,' she said, 'you're Frog aren't you?'

"I was dead chuffed that she was interested enough to find out my name. Then came the killer blow:

"'I used to go to the story times you used to do at Senebene Library.'"