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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Friend of man

A very senior officer of the council lurches up to Seth in the Tap Room of the Monkeys'.

"You work in the library don't you?"


"That T.Aldous Huxtable. Terrible, terrible old woman."

It's the ship's biscuits

Oh joy.

Twenty-two more boxes of books have arrived.

No more dank rambles

Talk of money reminds me that T.Aldous is the only person in the Library Service with the authority to waive fines.

He is also the only person technically incapable of doing it.

Years ago it would have taken a supreme effort of will not to tell him that he'd need to waive the fines for all those overdue books the other day. These days I have more sense and leave well alone. I don't want to risk his deciding again that we need to arrange some coaching sessions to talk him through some of the basic circulation functions like issuing, renewing and returning books (let alone reserving a book!!!)

I've never actually done a coaching session with him. What happens is that instead of spending half an hour or so doing the coaching you get a variable number of weekly half-hour explanations of all the reasons why he's not able to arrange the session and it's a shame because it would be tremendously useful and it would be useful to be able to understand all the mistakes that other people seem to keep on doing. The excuses peter out a few weeks after you've lost the will to live.

You've an overdraft coming through the keyhole

Front-line staff have been instructed to scour every corner of tills, fine boxes and backs of sofas for every penny, sou and mite that's going. We've not met the income target again.

Successive Audit Commission inspectors have pointed out that the income targets bear no relation to our capacity for raising the income. This doesn't stop this yearly ritual and subsequent breast-beating (usually somebody else's breast).

They don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Just when we thought this was going to be a routinely awful year-end we get a new complication!

Sixty-four boxes of books were to be being put through before we could do this year's rollover - these having had their invoices ripped untimely from their wombs so that they could go through the 2007/8 accounts before they were closed down in mid-March. So far, so usually awful. The books arriving from the visit that Mary arranged a couple of weeks ago were a pain but not anything to worry about. Ditto the sudden influx of newly-ordered stuff arising from another mid-March panic attack, nor the sixteen grand of stuff that's had to be bought for one of The Reading Agency's buy-a-kid-a-book schemes. Me and the Acq team thought we had this week sorted and were ready for a grim but structured rollover...

Finance have told us this morning that we have to put all one-hundred and odd boxes in the building awaiting invoicing and any arriving today through the 2007/8 accounts by Wednesday week.

How do they know that there are a hundred and odd boxes?

Mary told them.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Wasting times in asking riddles that have no answers

Encyclopedias are a pain in the arse this time of year:
  • Every year T.Aldous asks me for an age profile of the encyclopedias in stock at each library with a view to buying one or two more to replace old ones.
  • This invariably segues into an inquest as to why some libraries have got twelve-year-old editions of encyclopedias on their shelves, like I have any control over stock-editing.
  • Independently of T.Aldous, Mary and Milton, who should be ordering new enecyclopedias if anybody is, order a handful for selected libraries.
  • A humongous number of boxes arrive in the Acq. team's space and turn out to be a couple of encyclopedias -- maximum physical volume and lugging about for minimal impact on performance figures.
  • We'll get months of moans from the usual suspects because there's "no room for all this new stock" because they've put the old reference encyclopedias into their lending collection because "people like to take out encyclopedias."
  • The encyclopedias that don't fall into this trap get embroiled in the latest book sale saga.

And so it goes.

Call me old-fashioned but, if you're dead set on buying hardcopy encyclopedias; and you know that you're not going to spend all your book-buying budget again (because you haven't in the past eight years); and you know that most of your libraries have got old editions; and the end of year is always busy and summer is always quiet for stock additions; why not buy every library in the borough a fresh set of encyclopedias in midsummer?


Frog's trying to make some sort of sense of the miasma of give-a-kid-a-book initiatives being promulgated by central government for the delight of staff in libraries. He's now resorted to putting together a huge wall chart mapping out the timelines of each project and its target audience. It turns out that The Reading Agency alone is responsible for a raft of projects providing books for children in all but two years of primary school.

Which raises the question: wouldn't it be more efficient having one project providing books for all primary school children rather than a dozen projects providing books for most of them?

Especially as each project has its own measurement regime, statistical returns and local administrative overheads.

Sepulchral gloom

We don't get much natural daylight in our corner of the cellar. What little there is is filtered through an old open bookcase full of old boxes full of used envelopes. T.Aldous has decided that this looks a mess.

You be the referee: would you

(a) Throw away all the boxes full of used envelopes and remove the bookshelf;


(b) Buy a huge new cupboard for to keep all the boxes full of used envelopes out of sight.


We've asked if it's not too late to buy Davey lamps out of this year's money.

There's never a little Dutch Boy's finger when you want one

For the second day running, forty-seven more boxes of last-minute incoming stock. Times like this bring the disjunct between front-line and backstage operations into stark relief. Not really the fault of the staff themselves: over the years their managers have pulled out all the stops to stymie any possibilities of anybody being able to understand the full stock procurement/management process. Consequently, we get unnecessary conflicts like this:

"It says on the system that that book's arrived and is about to be invoiced. Could you find it and get it up to lending? There's a customer here who wants it."

"We've got a hundred and something boxes down here that it might be in. I'll try and find it but it might take a while. If I can find it I'll rush it through the invoicing system and I'll give you a ring to let you know it's in the booklift."

"How long will it take?"

"It depends how long it takes to find it."

"What should I tell the customer?"

"Tell her that we're looking for it but it might be ten minutes or so before we can find or process it."

"What if she doesn't want to wait that long?"

"I'll be as quick as I can."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spatial awareness

Seth had a bit of a conundrum: he was required to replace the table next to Maudie's desk with a new cupboard without being able to move either the filing cabinet or Maudie's desk, both of which are secured to the wall and both of which pin the table into the corner of the office with a 2mm clearance between items of furniture.

I have a degree in the physical sciences and understand three-dimensional close-packing structures and spatial mechanics. Seth has years of practical experience in the manipulation of unwieldy furnitures in unlikely spaces. Between us we knew precisely what needed to be done.

We kicked the legs off the bugger.

Measuring up to the master

Oh dear... Mary's made her mark with Human Resources. They rang Frog up to tell him the current state of thinking vis-à-vis Kitty's eye test.

"We're telling you this because you're Kitty's line manager and not because none of us want to talk to Mary because she's as bad as T.Aldous."

I think I must have been changed several times since then

Huzzah! I think/hope/pray that I've tidied out all the debris from the server crash nobody told me about. Indexing's still a bit fragile: I can see me having to rebuild the keyword databases a few more times before they're properly stable, and that after the LMS company's support manager deleted the file and rebuilt the data structure (which is as scary as it sounds!). Still, no matter, it's just the system that 95% of the service's performance processes depend upon.

Now, if it had been a wobbly cupboard then that would have been a different matter, especially had it been the wrong colour. The full panoply of library management would have been urgently involved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


"Been somewhere nice?" I ask Seth as he comes through the door.

"The old Glass Road site with T.Aldous. I'm going up there with Kevin the driver next Tuesday to do a final clear-out but T.Aldous insisted on us going out this afternoon so that he could clear out the kitchen cupboards himself."

Hello cheeky

There are rumblings in the Learn To Explore Centre by Sheep City. A member of the front-line staff is objecting to the requirement to greet telephone callers with:

"Good morning, Learn To Explore Lucy here. How can I help you?"

No hint of a smile or the usual quirky anecdotes

Well bugger me. It turns out that there had been a server crash on the day I had off the other week. Library Service policy on systems maintenance (if Kevin's not in) being to pretend nothing's happened, nobody thought to report the crash to the management system's support team so that they could check that everything was OK before working on it was resumed. And nobody thought to leave me a note saying what had happened so that I could promptly clean up the debris and minimise the damage.


I had hoped that the scrambling of the borrower database might have been a lesson learnt from last time but obviously not.

I had been wondering why half the indexing had suddenly gone up the spout and some of the invoices weren't reconciling against additions to stock.

Resource competition

Unlike Henry, I've had a fairly good meeting with some colleagues from Pardendale and Bencup.

My colleague from Bencup is pissed off because he's found out that at a time when the library service hasn't been allowed to fill vacancies for twelve months and some redundancies are threatened the Social Services Department has just appointed somebody to do jigsaws four days a week. I pointed out that jigsaw therapy is very useful in the care and treatment of dementia patients and people suffering from Alzheimer's but it was scant consolation for him.

Away with the fairies

Poor old Henry Irving's had a fun meeting. He's project-managing the setting up of a local heritage web site, which involves him having to work closely with the closeted orders of the Museum Service. I don't envy him one bit: I've worked in museums and since then have been involved in a few pieces of work involving partnership working with Helminthdale Museum Service. I've found that partnership relationship is pretty much like that between the cat and the tapeworm and if there's one group of people with a logarithmically greater need than librarians to say that they are professional with the least empirical evidence of professionalism it's museums "professionals."

The gem of the meeting came as Henry was pointing out the need to check the provenance of the materials going onto the web site to make sure that they were working within copyright requirements.

"There's a philosophical case for saying that we can put whatever we want onto the internet," says one of the Ivory Tower Maidens.

"We are local government officers and we will work within the laws concerning intellectual property rights," explained Henry.

At which point the Maidens threatened to take their toys away.

Little do they suspect that Henry is shortly going to become their boss...

Fumbling with your potatoes

Seth is taking a pile of old crap down to the old Roadkill Library site so that it can be collected with all the other stuff by the clearance contactors.

"We'll take these old cupboards with us," he tells T.Aldous.

"No, leave them here. I'm going to arrange for somebody to pick them up."

"Well, it's just as easy for us to take them to Roadkill."

"No, they'll be picked up from here."

"There's not enough room in this corridor for the cupboards, all those boxes and whatever else in coming in this week."

"When you come back you can shift them up into the community room for now."

Well known for their frolics

There, by the entrance to the shopping centre that houses Helminthdale Library, is a big poster.

Circus workshop
Here at Helminthdale Mall!

"Fuck me," says a colleague, "we're giving library management seminars now."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Let's dance to Joy Division

I really don't know why we bother...

About the only performance indicators T.Aldous pays any attention to are book sale income and lending issue (= checkout) figures.

Today I sent an email out to all staff saying that I'll be doing the stock stats for the statutory annual CIPFA reports on Monday and that it would be a good idea to borrow a pile of books, or at least make sure that the ones staff have got out aren't overdue. Given how anal librarians are about issue figures you'd think that they'd make sure that staff borrowed and renewed books religiously but the sad reality is that they're even more cavalier about this than everything else.

"Oh dear... library services are in decline... our issue figures have been going down..."

"Well why don't you borrow some sodding books then?!?"

At least the customers are on our side and have been borrowing enough from us, despite every obstacle we place in their way, for our issue figures to be on the up for the third year running. Not that we let anybody know this. It's probably seen as a professional fall from grace, a bit vulgar, not quite the top bracket don't you know.

And there's no excuse for having loans well overdue. Besides all having access to the loans circulation system there's a twelve-hour-a-day renewals hotline and renewals can be effected on the world-wide-spider's-web-net. We all make the occasional mistake when holidays arrive and we've let one or two slip by but I can't believe that's the reason why one-sixth of all the loans to staff are overdue.

And I have the evidence to prove it...

Just before six o'clock and up toddles T.Aldous.

"I think I may be one of the people who have overdue books," he simpered. "Tilly used to renew them for me."

"I'll renew them for you now."

"It's awfully bad of me. I really should keep my loans up to date."

"Yes. Ah... Your loans are so overdue that the system has set them to lost and is charging you £250 for them."

"Why's that?"

"Well, they were due back in July 2007 and the system has automatically assumed that if they're that overdue they're actually lost."

"I don't think I've had any of these books about library management... [not on your own there matey] Oh, I think I've got the book about the Orinoco on my desk..."

"(sigh) I'll re-issue the barcodes against your record. That will set them back to being on loan as opposed to being lost and they won't be overdue."

"Thank you. I'll have to sort something out about keeping the renewals up to date."

Performance management at its zenith point.

Chairs V

"Why have you got a pile of new chairs in the fire exit corridor?" I ask Seth.

"They're being sent back. They're the wrong colour."

A comical dance of cardboard boxes and fish

Oh dear. Sixty-four boxes of new stock -- the result of the visit to the supplier's -- has arrived at the same time as twenty boxes of books that have been on order for three months and six sets of new encyclopedias. The drought has turned to flood.

Not helped by the fact that these boxes are competing for space with a load of old metal cupboards in the fire exit corridor.

Mary has been granted a rare boon by the council's Finance Department and Maisie's got two hours' access to the finance system to get the invoices paid out of this year's budget. Noreen and Betty are rummaging through the boxes, retrieving invoices, copying them, giving Maisie the originals and putting the copies back in the appropriate boxes for checking, receiving and invoicing on the stock ordering system later. Mary is sanguine about the situation:

"There's no pressure to get these all through the stock ordering system. They'll do any time."

"Err... no," says Noreen. "It has to be done in the next week so that we can close down the 2007/8 funding hierarchy and do year end."

"Kevin could set up a separate 2007/8 hierarchy that we could pay the visit off with, couldn't you Kevin?"

"A ghost account!? Aren't we due to be audited again this year? They only looked at the ordering process last time, I'll bet they'll be having a look at how we reconcile the invoices this time."

"Oh yes, I hadn't thought of that. Pity."

Thank God for auditors!

There will be no relief once the stock from the sixty-four boxes has been received and invoiced as it's all to be packed up again to await the re-opening of Epiphany Library.

Chairs IV

A visitation from T.Aldous.

"I've not ordered you a chair because you didn't tell me what colour you wanted."

"I said that I didn't care what colour it is."

"That's why I didn't order one; I didn't know what colour you wanted."

"I really don't care what colour it is."

"When I get the swatch back I'll let you have a look so that you can decide what colour you want."

"I promise you, I don't care what colour it is. Honestly."

"The Assistant Librarians got these chairs but they're a greeny blue. You've got a blue chair in your office."

"I'll have a greeny blue chair. Like that one."

"But it's greeny blue. You've got a blue chair at the moment."

"Honestly, I don't care what colour it is. I'll have a greeny blue chair if that's what's available."

"OK. I'll have a look at getting a chair."

I just know the bugger will be visiting me with a bloody swatch again.

Taking advantage of every bit of natural cover

It's that time of year again...

Eleven new, big metal cupboards have arrived to replace eleven old, big metal cupboards that have been cluttering up the administration floor of the library. The shutters have been put up on the council's finance system so Maisie and Maudie are spending the day moving old clutter out of the old cupboards and into the new.

I have no idea where the old cupboards are going and don't feel inclined to ask.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Board games

I've been tidying up and bumped into a pile of notes from back when I was implementing the People's Network. That was a fun period (not!!!), with lots of chatter between library systems folk all trying to solve the same technical problems in the teeth of the same management and cultural issues. Had it existed at the time we would have filled the blogosphere and still not got up to the technical problems.

One week a few of us, being distinctly pissed off with our managers, picked up a passing reference to snakes and ladders and designed our own People's Network-o! board games. One colleague's design was suitably complex; the following provides a hnt of the complicated gavotte he came up with:

2: PN1 and paperwork sent elsewhere in the department. Miss a turn.

3: Management Group agree to discuss People's Network. Go to Square 7.

4: Management Group busy measuring shelves. Miss a turn.

5: Submit PN1 form late. Go to Square 7.

6: Produce workable budget spreadsheet. Go to square 10.

7: Management Group busy measuring shelves. Miss a turn.

8: Reconciling NOF requirements and Library Service policy. Miss a turn to try and find a policy.

9: Remove non-admissable match funding and secure network budget. Go to square 11.

10: Spreadsheet corrected by senior managers. Go back to square 9.

11: Budget figures still don't add up/ Go back to square 6.

And so on for 70 squares.

Another colleague produced a board of devastating economy:

1: Submit project proposal to management team. Go to square 2.

2: Go back to square 1.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Resurrection men

Following a suggestion by the Topiary Cow we had a go at trying to breath new life into the printer cartridges. It didn't work, despite our putting our best Tinkerbell faith into it.

It was decided that a blood sacrifice is a bit too extreme in this case. Though it's tempting to have one anyway given the general circumstances of the management of the service.


It's an odd thing but although this is Easter weekend we haven't yet started the Easter holiday events for children. We're sort-of starting them today with a few more over the next few weeks.

For reasons only understood by school heads and education committees there is no single school holiday period anywhere within 80 miles radius. Locally, half the schools in the area ended winter term on Thursday, most of the rest will be ending the term at the end of next and two will be dragging it on to 4th April.

On top of this we've got three independent schools which set their own term times and God alone knows when they're having their Easter holidays.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cartridge World

Fucking brilliant. It's not enough to have a spooler problem on the network dragging the laser printers to a dead stop. Nor enough to have five inkjets on public counters die on us. Four perfectly serviceable and useful inkjets are now out of operation because it has been decided not to buy replacement ink cartridges for them in order to rationalise stationery supplies.

"What do we tell our customers?" I'm asked.

"Give them a box of crayons."

Should have gone to Specsavers

Mary's happy: she's found somebody in Human Resources who thinks she might be right in thinking that Kitty can't have her eye test paid for by the corporation. She tells Frog that she thought she was right all along.

Initially, Kitty couldn't give a tinker's one way or another. Now that Mary's made such a performance about it she's half-disposed to dig her heels in, too. Frog counsels caution, as would I in the usual prevailing circumstances, though we all know how she feels.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Three of them have put their coats on and gone home

The story so far...

We've been signed up to some new corporate gubbins whether we like it or not so Jim thought it would be useful to get the people involved to give Policy Team a presentation on the doings.

Now read on...

The team can come over to see us any time on 14th April, 15th April in the afternoon, 17th April in the morning, or any time in week beginning 21st April except for 23rd. Please could you let me know if any of these are possible.


I can do 16th April.

Surprising what one finds funny in the trenches

Milton and I are trying to project-manage the usual end-of-financial-year-panic buy of equipment.

"Where's all the money for this coming from?"

"They reckon they've got IT budgets to spend."

"Have the budgets been reconstructed to create IT budgets?"

"No. Every time we have a budget reconstruction meeting we never get past 'Harry Presto took the training budget off us and gave it to the leisure trust when it was set up.' Every single time. I got the impression that Harry Presto was some sort of ruthless bastard but I met him once and he seemed all right."

"He was OK, as far as he went. Certainly not a monster."

"That's not how you hear from T.Aldous."

"I know you're spending the People's Network Revenue Budget I wasn't allowed to touch because we both know how much of a fight you had to have to get T.Aldous to let go of it... What are the others spending?"

"Must be an existing IT budget."

"For twelve years they told me there was no IT budget."

"It's one of those magic ones that only seems to exist when they want something. I wouldn't worry about it."

The silent scream

Chatting with Frog...

"So the Easter chick stuff's all gone out to the libraries?"

"Yes, all the Easter chick stuff's gone out to the libraries."

"I've posted the details of Easter holiday events on the web site for you."


"I don't remember seeing any posters..."

"Didn't do one. If you remember, I did a Halloween poster and T.Aldous had Hedi do another one. I did a Christmas poster and Mary had Hedi do another one. And I did one for half-term and Mary had Hedi do another one of that, too. I've got loads to do so I thought I'd save myself the bother of doing another redundant poster this time."

"What have you said to the usual suspects when they've complained about not having an Easter holiday events poster?"

"I've referred them to Mary."


There's a press release on the council web site:

Massive big book sale on at Helminthdale Library

When did we become Allied Carpets?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's the cat's whiskers

An entirely reasonable request from somebody who was putting together reading lists for last week's Science & Engineering Week:

"Is there any way of tweaking the catalogue so that the 1950s editions of The Radio Engineers' Yearbook don't feature prominently in the first few pages when you do a subject search for 'engineering'?"

Sadly, not without replacing them with the manuals on colour TV decoding techniques and P.A.L. systems from the 1960s. I don't know why we have these items in stock: it's not like we have a full run of The Radio Engineers' Yearbook nor that these are areas covered by Subject Specialisation. Truth be known, they are remnants of unconsidered trifles.

"Can't we just get shut of them?" I ask.

"Oh no. People are always asking to borrow them."

They must be habitués of some part of this library that's still on Browne Issue then.


"How are you settling into the new job?"

I ask Maybelle.

"OK, mostly. I'm still working out what I need to do and I'm starting to do a bit of networking. And at some stage I'll be having a meeting with the Assistant Chief Executive so that he can brief me on the big picture of the project."

"A one-to-one? That'll be good. Should be useful, as well."

"No... I'm to be chaperoned."

"I see. How often has it been postponed to date?"

"Four times."

The empty bridge

It's a bleak time in the Acq. Team's corner. All the trolleys and shelves are empty and the only boxes of stock are those awaiting decision on what to do with them now they've been added to the catalogue. I've never seen a mid-March like it, it's even worse than last summer's drought.

"There's a lot on order,"

says Mary, omitting to mention that most of these are pre-orders of double-cover titles, some of which have prospective publication dates of 2012.

The light at the end of the tunnel is last week's visit to the suppliers to do an on-site stock selection. The problem is, can it arrive before the cut-off date for payment from 2007/8 budgets?

Of course, the other burning question is: will we know what we want to do with it once we've received it?

Moving the goalposts

For some years it has been Mary's dearest wish that we get all the Branch Managers trained up to deliver storytimes additional to those done by Frog and the other librarians.

Catty Library's closed for repairs so most of the borough's children's librarians are currently on the same site, which makes it easy for them to get their heads together and come up with ideas for getting the training delivered and done. Frog's encouraged them, they've writen up their ideas and they passed them up to Management Group, sorry, Policy Team, for the OK last week. The Group Librarians, predictably, said that they might struggle to provide cover for the training; but they were OK with the principle. So it went through nem. com.

Except that Mary took Frog to one side this morning and said:

"I'm not sure we should be doing this. I think there are other ways we could be dealing with the under-fives besides storytimes."

In the absence of any firm indication of precisely what these other ways might be and taking into account the work done by the others Frog's got no option but to support the new training programme knowing that Mary's gone lukewarm on it. To his credit, he's actually all the more determined to support it: PT complains that the Assistant Librarians don't take on work projects, so why on earth do anything to undermine them when they do?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Request stop

Frog's turn to do Storytime upstairs and he's obviously flagging: during a "run around the children's library and generally create mayhem" moment he sends an email.

Doesn't the Geneva Convention have something to say about the number of times a man has to sing 'The Wheels On The Bus?'

I have both the Geneva Conventions and the Human Rights Act readily to hand on my desk (long story). Sadly I find no mention of this practice in the indices. It looks like he'll have fall back on their tender mercies. Poor sod.

The dreams that stuff is made on

Catty and Epiphany libraries are closed for refurbishment... How history repeats itself.

Licensed to quack

My turn to attend an interview with the council doctor. Human Resources are perturbed by the poor sickness record in the Library Service so anybody having more than three days' sick within a financial year is now required to see the doc. I had a day off with the winter lurgi a few weeks ago and so I must play. As a cynical exercise in box-ticking it takes some beating.
"I see you were off with stress a few years ago."

"This is true."

"Of course, each person deals with stress in a different way."

"And of course, each organisation generates unnecessary stresses in different ways."

"Quite so, quite so. Do you consider that you are fit for work at present?"


"So do I. Thank you for coming."
By my reckoning we'll have a dozen or more people having very similar conversations over the next week or so. Picking individuals off one by one is easier than dealing with the systemic failings of the organisation.

Chairs III

It's a funny thing: there's a dozen chairs doing the rounds of libraries round the borough and yet those of us who have asked for new chairs have been told we've got to wait a while.

Solving the wrong problem

Mary approaches Frog:
"Do we really need Kitty to email us monthly reports of her work? I also wonder if she needs to do posters advertising the pre-school events these days."

Looks like this one will run and run...

One I wish I'd said

"Some would say that this place is a complete fucking shambles. Personally, I don't think it's all that well-organised."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chairs II

'Phone call from Spadespit Library: a dozen chairs have been delivered to the library for no apparent reason and what should they do with them?

Luckily, the call was taken before the Acq. Team were told the latest farcical delay factor in their ten-year journey for team recognition and career structure.


I've been trying to avoid this one. Everyone else had had a turn and now I have to have a go. Kitty, one of the Early Years Librarians had an eye test a few weeks ago, during which the optician told her that the council might pay for the test. Like any sensible person (which should preclude anybody working for Helminthdale Libraries) she contacted Human Resources to see if she could apply.

"Do you use computers a lot?"

"Not a lot but I do use one every day."

"Have you got an email address?"


"Then you're eligible."

Frog line manages the Early Years Librarians so Kitty let him know she's had an eye test and that HR reckon the council would pay for it. Not having access to any funding, Frog had to ask Mary for the money. The rest is inevitable. Mary, being worried that if one person gets a free eye test they'll all want one is asking anybody she can think of whether they agree with her that Kitty isn't eligible for one. This is standard library management strategem #6: if you don't like the answer you're given, keep asking round until somebody gives you the answer you want.

Those asked so far are divided between the "don't knows" and those, like me, with enough experience to ask: "what's corporate policy on this?"

I have some sympathy with the "where is the money coming from?" concern, but not enough to be on Mary's side:

(a) If it's corporate policy then it's inescapable. The question really is "where is the money coming from?" not "can I stop this expenditure?"

(b) If it's a health and safety concern and a legitimate low-cost way of valuing staff, why not embrace it? Why does everything involving staff benefits have to be a battle of attrition?

(c) Is it really a good idea to be putting the blocks on expenditure on eye tests for staff at the same time as library management is encouraging the ordering of any old shit to make sure that budgets are spent up?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ally Sloper's half-holiday

Classic comic character Ally Sloper
You know things are bad when the highlight of the week is taking a day off to wait for the gas man to come and give the central heating its annual once-over.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A controlled explosion of the bag

We're all being surveyed by the council to get our views on its performance. This is the initial salvo in its efforts to win back a Michelin star for Local Government Excellence. The job has been outsourced to a polling company who started off by sending survey forms under plain wrapper to staff. They obviously ran out of plain wrappers pretty quickly so the rest of us have been sent an email telling us to complete the form online.

With our council's internet access performance.

Ten minutes after everybody received the global email telling us to go online we get another telling us to pack it in because the line can't stand the traffic.

The lights are going up again at the butcher's

I check with the call centre to see how things are going. (For the record, operationally it seems to be going quite well, despite the technical frailties of the project management.)

"Not so bad. It's a relief to get a library enquiry instead of one from highways. They've been a bitch."

"Oh yes, you said they were being launched the same week as us."

"They didn't say it was also going to be the same week that the mile-long stretch of Henry Kendal Boulevard between Tesco's and Epiphany was going to be turned into one long open trench. I've had two 'phone calls asking when the British Expeditionary Forces are to be expected."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stock query

We've got a pile of DVDs for the Acq. team to invoice and process. Julia and Mary bought them on a supplier visit at the beginning of January. Children's educational stuff: "Huckleberry Hound's ABC Singalong," "Krazy Kat's Kounting Game," "Muffin the Mule's Musical Merry-go-round," and the like. Once a week since they arrived Noreen asks Mary what she wants doing with them and please can she pass the invoice. Once a week Mary says to leave them for now while she has a think.

Mary's finally decided to let the invoice pass. We haven't fathomed out why it's the supplier's fault that Julia and Mary bought a pile of stuff then didn't know what they want to with it. Once they've been invoiced they've to go back into the boxes while we wait to find out how they're to be processed.

Noreen's further complicated things by asking whether we're licensed for lending this stock.


A dozen chairs were delivered to Dutch Bend Library today. Julia took one look, said: "I didn't order these," and told the driver to deliver them to Helminthdale Library.

Needless to say, she did order them, so Kevin the van driver's got another load to shift tomorrow.

In the mean time we've got a pile of chairs amongst the clutter in the fire exit.

Cash flow

Frog's just received the money he claimed for a meeting in Walsall just before Xmas. It's taken that long for Mary to OK the claim and decide which cost code it should be paid from.

We're hoping that three months wait for a petty cash claim for £21.32 is some sort of a record. Unless you know better...


Frog's had yet another of those 'phone calls:

"Another parent ringing to say that their child hasn't got a certificate for finishing last year's summer reading game. When will it end?"

Next summer?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bella vista

Occassionally even the best of us have our lapses in customer care. Especially when some customers seem to go out of their way to present an unsavoury front to the world. Overheard in the library:

"My God... Is it Rough Trade Fortnight?"

All the news that fits we print

Jimmy Huddersfield writes:

"Just caught up with the latest on the blog. You are exaggerating, aren't you?"


Aside from the usual embargo on personnel issues and the referrals to the union and a few issues of a gynaecological nature I've got four sheets of closely-written notes to try and catch up with.

Global warming 2

I can see where the local poll tax goes. I've just been to the second of three meetings in the Town Hall extension to sign off the call centre launch. It takes a lot to heat a large open plan office to 31°C but apparently it's a constant feature.

"It's not so bad at the moment but it's a bit grim when Ken comes in with his Bermuda shorts," says my contact.


The sudden flurry of incoming stock at the end of February was a false dawn: the usual end of year acquisition panic is not upon us. Quite the reverse in fact: so far this month we've had twelve boxes of books, which turned out to be fifty books and a lot of paper padding.

The Acq. team are praying for the early arrival of Frog's book-buying visit though we're still not sure that it would count for the stock additions performance indicator. Mary's pretty sanguine about it as she thinks that she can pay for some stuff that will arrive next month out of this year's money. The Acq. team are unimpressed as this means they'll be effectively starting the clock for 2008/9 with a minus number for the total.

Global warming 1

Seth's not been back a week after being off sick with pneumonia and they've already got him borough-wide shit-shifting. He's taking fifty boxes from the old Roadkill Library site to Dutch Bend where there's no room.

Imagine his surprise when he find the heating's full on at Roadkill. It's been closed since Christmas.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Magic numbers

For the eleventh year running T.Aldous' number is listed in the Phone Book as the number for renewals.

Why he doesn't either change the entry or change his number I do not know.

Still, it gives him an excuse for not answering his phone.

Relict of the Bunty comic

Oh aye, Julia's back from holiday. She's just issued an email to Lettie, the Children's Librarian at Dutch Bend, to the effect that how dare she allow a SureStart event at Raccoonville Library, one of Lettie's branches. Julia needed to OK this. Apparently.

I've no problem with Julia knowing about it: one of my long-standing gripes is that our library managers boast that they don't know what's happening in our libraries. (How do they know what resources are needed to deliver the services and events that are happening? Oh tush: away with you!) I am impatient with the selective micromanagements within this service, though.

Especially when the reason why there is a problem is that Julia's still sulking because the Children's Centre at Roadkill wouldn't let us have free use of the community room a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Who's the spook with the clipboard?

I've not said very much about Tilly's replacement as Library Secretary. Maudie Ebbsworth is, for the most part, OK but she has picked up one of the local habits very quickly.

The shopping centre we live in is hosting a promotion by a big insurance company. One of the organisers was just ushered into my office. We eventually worked out that he needed to speak to the shopping centre manager.

"Sorry," said Maudie, "I couldn't quite catch what he was saying so I assumed that he had something to do with computers."

Cheap shots

A rather chippie individual's come to visit T.Aldous.

"I guess this is where old ladies come to die," he chaffs.

We corrected him promptly:

"No. This is where dreams come to die."

He went up to the third-floor meeting room. Passing through the staff lobby he spotted the notice that was put up during the wet business in January.

"Bloody hell, how bad was the flooding round here?"

"We don't often get floods so when we get one we don't muck about."
Not for the first time I'm seriously wondering why we don't stick up a notice along the lines of:

We apologise for the fact that we're still not able to let you save your files.

We also apologise for the fact that printing's almost certainly not working because it usually doesn't.

We cannot answer enquiries requiring internet searches between 1130 and 1400 because the council's internet connection grinds to a halt in this period.

Have a nice day.

For once the print management system's working. Unfortunately the spooler controlling the network printers isn't.

Thank you Mrs. Palm and your five lovely daughters

There's a time and place for everything and that time and place isn't lunchtime in the children's library at Gypsy Lane.

This dirty sod has been banned from Sheep City because the managers there support the idea of banning customers found perving in the local studies library. We can't ban him because T.Aldous "isn't sure of the legalities involved in excluding him from the library." We can't touch him ("Who would want to?" ask staff).

Pansy and the girls limit his access to one particular PC which they ostantatiously spray with Milton Fluid once he's finished.

Blankety blank

Seth's just asked T.Aldous if he can put the final grid onto the Nation's Biggest Whiteboard.

"Not just now. I'm still not sure how many columns we need. Let me think about it a bit."

We seem to have crossed a Rubicon. Seth's just deposited all the pens and rolls of sticky tape into T.Aldous' in-tray.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


A colleague writes:

"We're going live with the project providing the corporate call centre access to our LMS so that they can renew loans and register new members over the 'phone.

"Our IT consultants still haven't ordered the software licences so we're going live with the licences that should be being used by a library that's currently got the builders in the roof. I can see myself having to engineer a massive crisis before the buggers actually get round to ordering the software!

"Hope yours is going better!"


Glittering codswallop

I should be better than this, I ought to be professional enough not to be distracted like this...

There I was, talking a group through the loan rules for juvenalia when I noticed one of the screens on the desks suddenly change colour. I stopped in mid word and gawped.

"I thought I'd have a yellow screen," said the trainee.

Ten minutes later I was derailed again when the same screen suddenly went grey.

"The yellow was a bit bright."

Inspirational toilet rolls

We have a sudden proliferation of corporate posters. Helminthdale Council lost one of its Michelin stars for outstanding public service in the field of local government and is taking it out on its workforce. Backstage in the library every wall has a poster proclaiming:

The council must improve!!!

over a picture of somebody looking suitably inspiring. The one on the wall by the Nation's Biggest Whiteboard has a Nicholas Parsons looky-likey wearing a clipboard. If they were all like that I wouldn't mind. Well, yes I would: it's a patronising waste of prodigious amounts of ink and paper. Anyway... the one I really object to is the one on the staff room wall opposite the table, suitably situated to put you off your dinner.

The model for this poster looks like Charles Bronson smiling his way through a toothache but lacking the late actor's devil-may-care air of debonair class that would have made him a jewel in the screwball comedies of the 1930s. After some discussion we could only conclude that the subtext must be:

Helminthdale Council: so full of impacted shit that it has to be worked out with a pencil.

World Book Day

It is, you know.

Not that you'd tell if you visited any of our libraries. T.Aldous says: "We're keeping it low key this year." Like it even wobbled the radar last year.


The search engine on the council intranet has been 'coming soon' since before the Millennium.

Today they switched off the A-Z and site map.

Twenty minutes' worth of looking for the form to apply for internet access for a new Library Assistant and I gave up. Which was possibly the intention in the first place.

The gimlet-sharp mind of the reference professional

We've done well to get to Thursday before this week's network down at Dutch Bend. As I'm reporting the problem to the helpdesk I receive a 'phone call from the Reference Library.

"One of our customers was looking at their email when we went off. Can we guarantee the security of his email?"


"Can't we?"

"We can't guarantee the security of his email. If he's that worried, once the network's back up he can log back on, log off and feel comfortable about it but we can't guarantee the security of his email."

"So we can't guarantee his security?"

"No, we can't guarantee his security."

"So what should I tell him?"

"We can't guarantee his security."

"Oh. We can't then?"



This, one of our oft-proclaimed professional specialists in information and reference library services, has had access to the internet for a decade.

It's raining soup and I've got a fork

It's my own fault. I was warned and I shouldn't have done it. But I did. And it is sodding depressing.

To rub my nose in it, in today's Service Planning Meeting (don't get giddy, they didn't do any) both Doreen and Julia boasted to Warner Baxter that "all our staff are setting customers up for e-services."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's French for paraffin oil

Overheard at lunch time:

"When I was on holiday last week I didn't swear once, not once. I can tell I'm back here... How often have I said 'fucking' in the past ten minutes?"

"That was your sixth."

The call of the wild

Great God.

Lurking upstairs in lending I just watched Norma answer the 'phone to somebody who obviously wanted to renew their books. The call went to the desk rather than the counter because that line was busy. Norma wasn't, so could easily have renewed the books within less than a minute.

What she actually did was say: "You need to ring extension 571," and put the 'phone down.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

One who through no fault of his own has incurred the hatred of The Daily Express

Another nasty bout of introspection...
You Are An INTP
The Thinker

You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can. Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge. Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat. A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

In love, you are an easy person to fall for. But not an easy person to stay in love with. Although you are quite flexible, you often come off as aloof or argumentative.

At work, you are both a logical and creative thinker. You are great at solving problems. You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

How you see yourself: Creative, fair, and tough-minded

When other people don't get you, they see you as: arrogant, cold, and robotic

What's Your Personality Type?

More with the P word

Jim's going to have to work from home. He's worried that he's gone native, having left it to now to get the final draft of the 2008/9 service plan cobbled together. T.Aldous pottered over...

"What are you doing Jim?"

"I've just finished drafting the service plan."

"We don't have to do that yet do we?"

I suggested that Jim save time by just slapping "2008/9" on last year's plan.

If we've not already blown the world to bits

We've got change management consultants coming in tomorrow. T.Aldous has just asked Jim:

"Is there anything we need to be doing for this meeting we're having?"

Monday, March 03, 2008

We would not die in that man's company

Arthur Sixpence has gone on to other things and his place is taken by one of a cohort of private sector business analysts who've been brought in to add a professional gloss to the doings of Helminthdale Council. The effect has been electrifying.

Milton and I have been comparing notes over cups of Bovril.

"How many 'phone calls have you had for him today?"

"Three: two asking to 'clarify the situation with the licences' and one asking for more information about what licences are needed. How about you?"

"Two: one asking for clarification and one asking if the order for the licences needs to go to us."

"Why would it?"

"God knows. I just said that it needs to be sent to the supplier, like we told him last autumn."

"And Christmas..."

"And twenty-odd times in January... It's not like we ever tell him anything any different."

"And this is for them going live next Monday..."


"Is it true that you lost your rag with him last week?"

"Yes. I think I'll have to keep you away from him or you'll be hitting him."

Shit. Make that four times.

Fair trade

We're in the midst of Fair Trade Fortnight and thought we were doing well with the books and leaflets and coffee mornings and stuff.

Then somebody asked us if we traded ethically and didn't exploit lowly-paid workers in dingy sweatshops.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Are you still knitting that tambourine?

I asked: "What would be the backing music to your library?" You said:
  • Benjamin Britten playing "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" on his ukelele -- 7%
  • "Blind Lemon's Penitentiary Blues" -- 7%
  • Herbert Von Karajan conducting "Gotterdammerung" very, very slowly -- 7%
  • Herman's Hermits singing "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good -- 15%
  • Kylie Minogue singing "I Should Be So Lucky -- 61%
Sadly, nobody went for Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" or The "Dead March" from Saul.

There are obviously a lot of library folk out there fancying themselves in pert gold hot pants!