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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sex and death with science and empire

"Ooh," says Mary, "I meant to tell Noreen how I want the DVDs processing. I'll have to tell her tomorrow."

That'll be a treat for her. She's not in this afternoon and imagines she's coming in special tomorrow on what should have been a day off to sort out the invoice for "Jane's Fighting Sailors."

Bronwyn tells me that she will, at least, be spared doing any more invoicing of the DVDs: the third one that didn't get lost on the usual desk finally closed that saga.

Did you ever have a dream?

I'm in one of my "what on Earth is the point?" moods and trying not to sulk in my tent. Over the past few months we, like so many other public library authorities, have been undergoing a "whole-service change process." In our case the change has been that Policy Team has been even less communicative than ever. I'll probably get into trouble if I wheel out the Ouija board one more time for a lark.

Meanwhile, those of us in the lesser management echelons have been charged with getting on with a few smaller projects to prove to the world that we're as capable as we keep saying that we are. We are not covering ourselves with jam and glory...

To support these projects I offered to build some shared workspaces so that we could work collaboratively without having the rigmarole of having to arrange meetings and then having to reschedule each one ad infinitum because of problems with the enquiry desk rotas. Simple stuff that you, dear reader, well know how to do because you're clever enough to be able to read a blog and comment thereon and are comfortable with the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Or at least prepared to give it a go and see if it's any use. I pulled together all the background materials, links to all the necessary, etc. and circulated the details and the links to a whole bunch of people, including all the Assistant Librarians.
Use of shared workspace over two months? None.

Not that the meetings work any better, either. A couple of months ago I had a meeting with Bronwyn, Maybelle and Frog to look at ways I could support their project working, especially given how often we end up recreating the wheel whenever pieces of work are undertaken in this organisation. It was a good meeting and I came out of it feeling that we'd done some good work and there was a lot of potential for the future. I wrote the notes up and asked them to check them out and that if they were happy with them I'd pass on a copy to Milton to see if we could build a few ties-in with some of the other work Milton and I are working on this year. Nada, even after re-sending them. I could, and should, ask each of them if they're OK with the notes and passing them on but I'm feeling stubborn about it. They're really, really busy and running round like blue-arsed flies so I completely understand why they've not had time to get back to me about it. But I can't help feeling disappointed that we can't do better than Policy Team. I have high hopes of these people and don't want them to turn into Policy Team, they could be so very much better than that.

And I can't help feeling it personally, despite everything.


This time I give up and slam five grand into the recharged grant expenditure budget. There's only five more boxes of Booking Hell books come in today but there's bound to be more later this week and neither Noreen nor I are in the mood for the "however has all this money been spent?" performance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Damned lie

Staring out of the staff room window I notice a bus going by with "Torquay" on its destination board.

How terrible.

Fancy imagining that you're going to get off the bus amidst the twilight languors of the English Riviera only to find you've arrived at Helminthdale Bus Station.

Badges of honour

"How'd Saturday go?" I asked Frog.

"Very well. We got lots of interest and gave out lots of stuff and one or two of them may even come to the library at some stage."

"Well, yes, of course, Mary will have arranged for a benchmarked measurement of sustained outcomes for this outreach work, won't she?"

"Of course. Couldn't doubt it. We do have one problem with her, though."

"How so?"

"She's sulking because me and Bronwyn have got new embroidered 'Librarian' badges from one of the other stalls. She wants to know why she hasn't got one."

"Oh dear."

Shackleton returning from the Pole

Jim's camping out amongst us common bogs, desk-squatting amongst the Assistant Librarians and toilet rolls.

"Exiled?" I ask.

"They're having a meeting," replies Jim.

I have just enough sense to leave this one well alone.

As happy as a penguin in a microwave

It's still unbearably hot in the offices but at least it is now getting no hotter. T.Aldous is in my good books after playing a blinder over the weekend.

Apparently, a few people had a good old moan at him on Friday about the heat.

"I don't know why people didn't ring us on Thursday to complain. They had a contact number for us,"

he tells me. Quite what difference that would have made I don't know: it was tropically hot all last week, including the days when Policy Team were immured in their den like so many panting meerkats. Anyway, he took it to heart and tried to chase up the problem with the corporation buildings maintenance wallahs, who make Lotus eaters look like trippy dragonflies. As one should expect he got nowhere: waiting for parts, should arrive in six to eight weeks, then will be added to the engineer's work schedule... yaddah yaddah yaddah.

On Saturday he had a brainwave and emailed the director of buildings maintenance saying that he'd heard a rumour that the situation had been reported to the union as a health and safety issue.

This morning at nine an engineer appeared as if by magic and has switched off the heaters and given the chillers enough of a new lease of life as to be able to produce nearly 10% of its nominal output, enough to keep us the right side of eighty Fahrenheit.

He can do it when he can be arsed.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The caste system

Bronwyn, Maybelle and Frog have decamped, carrying sundries for the decoration of the Library Service's stall in the Feel Good Festival. As instructed earlier in the week, they are walking over there.

Mary follows on, being given a lift in Lippy's van.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Out in the scullery

Kevin and Alwyn have gone back to the old Roadkill Library and spent an age hunting down "somebody's lunch" but could only find a butty box with six grapes in it.

It turns out that that is the lunch.

"Oh good! Thank you, I'm on a diet," says the lucky recipient.

It would have been cheaper for the council to buy her some new grapes.

Distant echoes

Mary tells Frog that the Early Years Outreach Workers he line-manages will have to fill in the 54-page Pay and Grading forms again and that they'll have to be submitted by Friday next week. Frog wonders why he wasn't told this at the same time as Bronwyn and the Acq. Team.

The radio has let us know that this is not a test

T.Aldous is in an all-day strategy meeting at Umpty. He's just rung Maisie to tell her that she needs to contact Kevin the van driver to tell him that somebody's lunch is in the fridge that he and Alwyn are taking over to Roadkill so he needs to go back out to retrieve them and take them back to the Town Hall.

Priorities at work.

Faint praise

Dagmar's verdict on this morning's children's holiday event at Raccoonville:

"I didn't reckon it at all. I didn't think much of the entertainer, but the kids liked him."


I've had a message from T.Aldous to tell me that I'm in charge of the Library Service while all of Policy Team are scattered to the winds in meetings.

Having waited all this time, what should I do? The possibilities are endless. Should we invade Ruritania? Perhaps sell some of the Library Assistants to the white slave trade? Introduce the pigeons in the attic at Grimley Library to the dreaded poppy? Oh what to do? What to do?

I'll go and have my lunch.

Grunt and groan

Kevin the van driver has been detailed to take an old fridge from the Town Hall to the old Roadkill Library for to be dumped and taken away when the building's cleared. Alwyn's gone to give him a hand.

Like they've nothing better to do and we've not got a load of old rubbish that we'd desperately love to have dumped and cleared.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chain reaction

Frog can't make the meeting that Mary requires him to cover because he's supposed to be going to another meeting that Policy Team require him to go to. Except that he can't go to either because he's got to go and cover the children's event at Umpty so that somebody else can go to the latter meeting. Except that that meeting's now cancelled, but Frog still has to go out and provide the cover.

Just to cheer him up I show him a posting on the public libraries discussion list detailing a not-all-that-big-really library authority's children's library team structure, including the Early Years Librarian, the Teen Librarian and more. His response was rich and Anglo-Saxon.

Christmas at Ground Zero

Policy Team have decamped on another of their away days, giving those of us relict just as much notice, information and preparation as usual. The first we all knew about it was when we came in and saw it written on the whiteboard (the little one, not The World's Biggest Whiteboard, which still lurks behind the metal cupboards).

I'm going to have to prepare for the next eventuality. I'll have to cadge as many empty liquor bottles as possible. Next away day, I'll fill the bins with these empties and hang a reach-me-down pair of jockey shorts from the corner of one of the big metal cupbaords. Frog suggests the addition of some condoms filled with rice pudding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How true those words are, even today

Chatting with Billy Meredith, from the Mobile Library, we get to talking about one of the personnel issues that won't ever get on this bog.

"It's a strange thing," he says, "no matter what you do you just can't quite pitch your expectations low enough for in here."

Christmas came early for me

I'd promised myself that once the thermometer in my office reached blood temperature I'd be going home. As it is, much to my delight I have found a fan.

I was digging out the emergency Davey lamp for Bronwyn when I discovered it. (Bronwyn needed the lamp for stock editing purposes.) I've now set up the fan and am enjoying the benefits of an occasional waft of hot socks-y breeze.

I've given it a week before some bugger steals it out of my office.

Credit crunch

Yet again the recharged grant expenditure budget grinds to a halt as Noreen is left with £6.90 to pay for twenty-four more boxes of Booking Hell books. I put in another grand so that Noreen can put this lot through but will run out when the next lot arrive on Friday. This is so that we can generate a repetition of the following exchange:

"Mary, we need more money in the recharged grant expenditure budget, we've run out."

"Again? However has that happened?"

"Somebody keeps telling Frog to buy thousands of books from The Reading Agency."


"Why have you got a coffin in your office?" I'm asked.

"It isn't a coffin. It's the case for some equipment."

"Well it looks like a coffin to me."

"A coffin has a nailed-down lid. This has got hinges and a lockable catch: see?"

"Well it still looks like a coffin to me."

The problem is that it now looks like a coffin to me, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Two ladies of a certain age:

"The council didn't empty my green bin last week because of the strike so I won't be able to mow the lawn for a month because they won't take the grass away."

"Couldn't you put the grass clippings down your trousers and scatter it about by dropping it a bit at a time like they do with the diggings out from the tunnel? Ask Sybil about it."


Well this amuses me anyway...

Mary's told Frog that he's got to deputise for her in a meeting on Thursday.

"When is it?"


"Where is it?"

"You'll have to contact Derek in the Regeneration Team to get the details."

Almost as good as Readers' Digest's Big Prize Draw

Blog awardThat nice man Can Bass 1 has nominated me for a prize, which is very gratifying. I'm constantly amazed by the responses I get from the readership of what is, essentially, a sad old man's prolonged whinge about his workplace.

I, in turn, have to nominate a short list of people.

The choice is tricky because there are a lot of interesting places out there written by talented people. This struck me last weekend when I made the mistake of buying a copy of The Grauniad. The quality of the articles in the supplement sections compared badly with the blogosphere.

Here's my very short list then:
  1. Ellis Nadler's Sketchbook is a wonderfully varied collection of his sketches, cartoons and workings-out. Good draughtsmanship, a sense of humour and a skill for the macabre, it's well worth a look.

  2. Gorilla Banana's "The Japing Ape" is a safe laugh; if his observations of the human condition doesn't get you then the commentary from his rather peculiar audience will.

  3. No Good Boyo provides us with an almost definitive account of middle-aged-blokedom. Anyone with a good degree in Bat Maintenance and Ruthenian Studies can't be all bad.

  4. The Topiary Cow's blog is a gentle meander through life. There's a lot of pudding in there lately, which suggests that somebody needs a holiday.

  5. And if you work in a library you have to nod to The Librarian's Guide To Etiquette.

Apologies to those I don't nominate this time; please don't think badly of me! I could easily have listed a few dozen.

Polly-wolly-doodle all the day

"Those DVDs need to be on the shelves at Roadkill by Saturday," Mary tells Noreen.

"Well... Seeing as they've sat there since January and you still haven't decided what you want doing with them, nor how you want them processing and you still haven't sorted the invoice out yet, I'd say best of luck to you in getting it done," replies Noreen.

And we still don't know if we're licenced to loan them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sic transit...

Bronwyn. Maybelle and Frog are trying to do the preparations for this weekend's Festival. Frog asks Lippie if her van would be available so that they could borrow it to take the stuff over to the stalls. Unfortunately he asks her within Mary's hearing.

"You won't need the van. You can take it all over in the trolleys. It won't be a problem if it's fine."

"I'll just check the weather forecast..." says Frog. "It says it'll be fine most of this week, turning to rain by Friday."

"I don't believe in forecasts," says Mary.

That's Mary 'Oh look, it's raining and I've got the wrong shoes on' Dunroamin.

Two days camping in a car park

Joy be unconfined.

Frog and I have been wondering why the word "library" appeared in the fliers for the Helminthdale Feel Good Festival that have been littering the pubs in the town centre for the past three weeks. We rather hoped that some other poor fool had been involved (given our internal communications we wouldn't now about it until a few months later). Poor old Frog.

This morning, Mary told Frog, Bronwyn and Maybelle that they're going to be staffing a stall this weekend. As if they're not up past their eyes in stuff as it is.

"If you three are out with the hippies, how are they keeping the library open on Saturday?"

"I'm now past caring," replies Frog. "Let Mary sort it out with Doreen."

Signed, sealed and lost in the post

The Acq. Team have been required to fill in the 54-page Pay and Grading Form twice in the past four years. That's for the Pay and Grading process that all councils in the country completed by April (ha ha).

Mary tells them that they and Bronwyn have to fill the form in again and it's got to be submitted again by Friday next week.

"Can't they just tell us what they want us to say so that we give them the "right" answers this time?" asks Noreen.

Nothing better to do, obviously.

Drum roll, please


"Mr. X has still got that book on memory training overdue."

"He'll have forgotten he hasn't brought it back."


Thelma asks a question:

"I'm planning ahead for the re-opening of Epiphany Library. I think we need some sort of event or activity for each day in the first week, to make sure it's launched properly. I've already made arrangements to pencil in story times and class visits. Have any of you any other ideas?"

Almost too easy a target:

"Isn't it a bit soon to be planning? Usually we wait until the day after the re-opening, just in case the counter needs re-doing."

"How about a book sale?"

"Policy Team could give an activity planning masterclass."

Moebius strip

I'm sure I've been here before...

T.Aldous is surveying the wreckage that is backstage Helminthdale. Again.

"We really must do somethings about all these boxes."

He says. Again.

"Can you do something about them?"

He asks me. Again. This time I don't point out that I'm not responsible for the contents. Nor that we wouldn't have half of them if he hadn't insisted that a couple of libraries send their surplus stock here instead of to Dutch Bend or Catty. Nor that the other half are only here because half of Policy Team still haven't decided what they're going to do with the contents. And I don't use the words "arson," "skip" or "bollocks." I just say:

"You're right: something needs to be done about these boxes."

I knew I was in a dangerous mood, but hadn't realised it was that bad.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kiddies' Korner

book cover: The Naked Picture of Your Mom is going to get you a lot of fucking presents. Click here for the full setFlagged up by Marianne on the MLxperience blog...

Marianne apologised in advance for this link. I have no such scruples.

In fact, I have every intention of suggestion that Frog buys all these titles as a circulating collection.

Paris Fashion Week caught me off-guard

I notice that two dozen rolls of silver mirror film are being sent to Spadespit Library.

"I think they're turning the staff into Cybermen," I'm told.

Friday, July 18, 2008


A long and painful working day is relieved by the discovery that Jimmy Clitheroe does appear in the Dictionary of National Biography after all. So that's all right then.

Gun law

We've frequently, and rightly, been told off by inspectors for the number of prohibition notices we have in our Reference Libraries:

Do not eat or drink in the library.

Do not use mobile phones in the library.

Sit properly in the library.

Now what did your mother tell you about doing that? Stop it at once.

et cetera.

I'd love it if we had one as reported by the Woeful Librarian!

Flexible goalposts

The week before the strike, Frog checked out the position as far as part-time staff are concerned and was advised that he should tell Kitty that as she doesn't work Wednesdays she would only be docked pay for the Thursday she was on strike.

Coming back in today, Mary takes Frog to one side and tells him:

"I've been going through Kitty's clock cards and I've found that she's worked two Wednesdays in the past fifty-two weeks so she'll have to lose a day's pay for Wednesday."

"One was when she came in to do a storytime in the park for an event you arranged with the Woodcraft Folk and the other was an evening event for Senebene Library's Reading Week."

"It doesn't matter, the rules say that if she works Wednesdays she has to lose a day's pay for the strike."

"Well you're telling her that, then, because I'm not."

Like so many of the rules of personnel management we labour under in the Library Service, one strongly suspects that this would come as some surprise to people in Human Resources. We happen to know that HR wouldn't spend any time going through the clock cards because we found out the other week that we're the only part of the council that insists on archiving them "for audit purposes."

It would serve Mary right if Kitty refuses to do any more events on a Wednesday.


The air-conditioning is up the chute again and the heating's kicked back in again, which makes it a very jolly holiday here in Helminthdale Library. Inside the building we're wilting like hothouse flowers waiting for some retired gentleman to hire a gumshoe to look after his daughter's men friends. Outside it's a rough October day, the latest of many this summer. There is a tang of mildew about the place.

Not having direct access to any of the fans which have appeared by magic out of one of the magic metal cupboards, my office isn't pleasant. Not that it ever is, but today it's foetid. Or, as Sybil warned me as I clocked in this morning:

"It's like a steveadore's jockstrap in there today."

I bow to her superior experience.

Seth opens a couple of windows, which is something we're not allowed to do under the terms of the lease. It offers little respite, creating a weather front just above Frog's desk which leads him to retreat into the Acq. Team's area before he's struck by lightning.

To cap it all, the staff at the municipal incinerator are trying to catch up with the backlog of offerings caused by two days' strike action. The chimneys can't cope with all that smoke and torrential rain so everything downwind of the place (which is to say, the whole of the town centre) smells of burnt plimsolls and cabbage.

We asked, you answered

I asked: "How will we use The World's Biggest Whiteboard?"
  • One poor, deluded soul thought we would be using it to map the current state-of-play of the hundred and one library projects that have been visited upon us. It doesn't really sound like us, does it?
  • Some of the more creative elements in my readership thought we'd be using it for creating a huge mural drawing of Tinga and Tucka on The Wibbly Wobbly Way. In a sane and just world, so we would.
  • In a sad reflection that my readership might have gone native, a massive 85% of you thought we'd be hiding it completely behind dirty great cupboards bought for to house pre-owned envelopes.

A moment of high culture: Willie Wombat playing the recorder!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Untold riches

I don't feel so bad about having to go back to work again tomorrow. I've had a letter from the Readers' Digest telling me that I may have won a substantial amount of money in their free cash draw.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Storm and stress

Taking advantage of the strike days to do a bit of Christmas shopping, I bump into Ken Barmy in Hannigan's Truss Boutique. As usual, we swap horror stories about our respective workplaces, with some of his being hair-raising. Eventually, I have to ask the question.
"Ken, why on earth do you stay there?"

"Well, you know that mad idea young men tend to have, that they can change the world?"


"I still have it. I reckon that if I can change our place then the world is a piece of piss."

"I suppose so..."

"Well, if we don't change, we're fucked."

"So you really reckon you can do it then?"

"Oh no. We're fucked."

I've got a counselling session tomorrow afternoon. It sounds like I'm not the only one who should have one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There's always a question, sir

A note left on my desk while I was off-site:

The printer has given up the ghost

No signature. No location. No idea.

No chance. Straight into the bin.

Harvest festival

Popping into the staff room I notice that the table is adorned with a bowl of fruit, three boxes of biscuits, a box of chocolates and a bowl of lilies.

I'm told that it's a fertility sacrifice to the Pre-Owned Envelope Fairy.

A long-standing enigma

"How come PC 1's not got Flash installed on it?" asks Norbert.

"It ought to, it's a clone of all the other PCs."

"So why doesn't it?"

"Ah well... The same reason that PC 5 didn't have it installed on it yesterday but has it installed today and that PC 12 didn't have it before lunchtime but has it now. And why it didn't work on any of the PCs in Ref. last week but does today."

"Oh shit, I'd forgotten it gets as silly as that.

We've been promised useful developments pretty soon. The same promises as we had this time last year in the run up to moving Roadkill Library.

Just how many times do people need telling?!?

I'm in a bate. Yet again we've got a new member of staff (another Library Assistant) and yet again nobody lets me know their details so that I can get them set up on the corporate PC network or on any of our library systems or on email or access to the Internet.

The way it usually goes (and has done three times since Xmas) next thing will be a panicky 'phone call from somebody saying: "x is at library y and can't get onto the PC, can you sort it out urgently?" The answer should be "no," but x is invariably the unwitting victim of some fuck-witted personnel management on the part of somebody in the Library Service.

This time, Hetty introduced me to the new girl last week when we passed in the lift lobby.
"You will be giving me Alice's details so that I can get her set up on the networks, won't you?"

"Oh yes."

Nil since. I've taken steps to get the necessary details directly so that I can get things sorted.

Meanwhile I'm fairly sure that two Library Assistants have left the service some time over the past three months but I don't know which two and nobody's telling. I am very far from being happy about the situation.
"Think of it from their perspective," says Milton, "what difference does it make to them?"

"Compliance with data protection legislation; data security regulations; catastrophic risk to essential systems; unacceptable risk to the corporate network; disruption to services caused by lack of access to essential systems; and unacceptable exposure to the risk of identity theft of customers' details. Aside from that, nothing at all."

Wireless World

Lovely. The council's investigating the installation of wifi hotspots in key areas of the Borough, including a few of our libraries. This is part of the corporate digital dream aiming to encourage skills-building, mobile working, world peace, small children with fluffy kittens and prizes for everybody.

The people responsible for this project are the same people who have decreed that all staff laptops shall have the wireless function disabled.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A date stamp and a pompadour

Jim shows me the draft work plan for the 2008/10 phase of the Library Service's Five Year Plan and asks me for comments, so long as they don't include any references to The Glorious People's Reference Librarians' Beetroot Collective.

Reading though it I can't help noticing that although the Group Librarians are responsible for the operational management of all the libraries in the Borough they cop for just three of the fifty-two tasks listed and that two of those begin: "Investigate..."

Quite how Bronwyn cops for being responsible for "the display of stock on shelves in libraries" escapes me.

I get off Scot free: all my work is so utterly insignificant as far as Policy Team is concerned that it doesn't appear in the plan at all.

You might hear some reindeer on your rooftop

Poor old Frog's run ragged trying to finalise the arrangements for the summer holidays, on top of trying to allocate and get shut of 45 boxes' worth of Booked Up books. Our new Whole Team approach to service provision is a great comfort to him.

"Why are we only having two events in Catty?" asks T.Aldous.

Perhaps because Catty Library's closed and we're wasting money paying for events at Mattressbrook yet again despite the fact the library closed years ago.

It gets even better when the question arises: who's going to be supporting the events and activities in the libraries? I might have thought that given Frog's status as a single human being, he'd have done enough in arranging all the events and making the calendar fit in with whatever else is going on at each library; avoiding people's annual leave dates and has no authority to issue directives as to rotas. And that the business of making sure that a member of staff is available on the day could be left to one or other of the layers of operational management who do have control of the rotas.

Could the Assistant Librarians sort out the necessary? he asks Mary, his line manager. No, she tells him, check with the Group Librarians. Can I leave you to sort out the necessary? he asks the Group Librarians. No, says Julia, you need to check the rotas yourself. Doreen, of course, doesn't respond.

Teamwork at its best.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


There are two strike days next week and those of us in the union will be expected to join in. I'm not altogether comfortable with the business of disrupting services by strike action but I'm rather more uncomfortable with the business of disrupting services because we can't or won't recruit people and invent reasons to stop low-paid staff progressing through the pay scales.

No doubt some well-paid MP with an interesting suite of semi-transparent allowances will point out that this is a time to batten the hatches because there's a credit squeeze, the same way as they point out that pay restraint in the public sector is essential for the good times never to end.

Looking round the library I can only think that regardless of the outcome of the action people will be glad of the breather.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fat clerks could power a town the size of Bognor

After yesterday's gruesome experience Frog and I decide to repair to the pub for lunch. As predicted, the place is full of solicitors talking about their body mass indices. The Law Society must have bought into a Weightwatchers franchise. Unfortunately, we're sat next to a particularly noisy specimen.

"Do you know, I'm five foot eleven and seventeen stone three but according to my BMI I'm clinically obese."

Well, yes matey. I'm taller than you and a stone and a half lighter and I'm fat. No two ways about it.

"And smoking...! Do you know, when you take a drag on a cigarette you breath in three trillion free radicals. Three trillion! Can you imagine that? Three trillion!"

No, of course he can't. Even if it's just an American trillion it would take him a thousand years just to count it, assuming that he doesn't do boring things like sleep or eat or die. A trillion is an idea in the mind of a mathematician. It always puzzled me that anybody had to 'invent' the googol. I can only imagine that they used to run out of ink at the ninety-ninth zero.

In the end Frog has enough of this nonsense. He leans back in his chair, pats his midriff bulge and says, in his best stage whisper:

"I've taken on board Gordon Brown's advice about not wasting food."

So proud

A reader writes:

Dear Mister Musgrove

I have just been in to my local library to have a look at your blog on their computers. Imagine my surprise when I found that our libraries have blocked it because of the 'unsuitable content.'

I'm so proud I could yodel.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fifty years ago...

Plus ça change...

Dewey, Hooey and Phooey

Mary had gone up to Lending to find something she wanted to borrow for the weekend. She came back rather a lot non-plussed, having found it, eventually. It had been reclassified and put on the shelves.

Or, more accurately, a different class number was typed onto a spine label and slapped onto the item in question. Anyone trying to find it using the information in the catalogue record would have been fifty-four feet out.

We've only had an electronic catalogue for twenty years. It's not something we're used to yet.

Gentlemen are asked not to urinate in the aspidistras during the asparagus season

I'm eating my butties in the staff room. At one end of the table there's a discussion about the problems Larry Adler must have had when playing the harmonica, what with being a vampire and that. Another group are surreptitiously eating licorice and hoping that Mary won't get them into yet another conversation about her league table of favourite licorices. Luckily, she's commandeered a conversation about one of the girls' husband's heart condition and steered it inelegantly towards 'What we did with the Beaver Scouts last night.' Two people are staring intently at their Pot Noodles, hoping not to catch Mary's eye and trying not to smirk at the idea of someone scouting for beaver. Another of the girls is rehearsing a conversation she's going to have this evening by pretending her ham sandwich is a mobile 'phone. The blackened banana on the staff room table is in its third glorious week. In the corner are four large carrier bags full of bubble wrap, not all popped. At five past one the clock played 'Dardanella' slowly then died. Every person who has come in has slumped on the chair and said: "Oh God..."

I'd go to the pub but it's full of fat solicitors talking about their Body Mass Indices.

"There's something I haven't told you: I go bell-ringing on Wednesday nights"

Milton's been over to Epiphany to see whether or not the network points he's ordered have been installed. Imagine his embarassment when he set off the burglar alarm.

Imagine his further embrassment when he realised that he could have walked through the hole in the wall without setting off the alarm.

"Even as we speak somebody is pouring concrete in the hole," he tells me.

He always was an optimist.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Backing tracks for root canal work

I bump into Wendy Muffplaster, who's been one of the participants in this afternoon's business planning workshop.

"How'd it go?" I asked recklessly.

"We'd have been better off paying for a couple of Library Assistants."

I'd rather doubt it: they've had most of the staff from Catty Library camped out at Umpty and there's bugger all to show for it. Judging by the drop in the issue figures they're not even borrowing books there.

On reflection, perhaps we would have been. If all the participants had been as positive and open as Wendy I can't imagine much would have been achieved on the exercise.

It's a few years since I last tried to persuade any of the librarians that they need to demonstrate to the outside world that the librarians do things that the Library Assistants don't or can't, otherwise why pay the extra money? I'm not going to be trying again any time soon. After all, we're all grown-ups.

The den of the Great Wardrobe Spider

"By the law of averages," says Frog, "one of these big metal cupboards must lead on to Narnia."

"Wouldn't we incur the wrath of the Pre-Owned Envelope Fairy if we went exploring and disturbed things?"


A rep. from a furniture supplier came to visit today to talk about plans for Catty Library. The plan was that he and T.Aldous would go over to Catty to rendezvous with Julia and see about putting the world to rights, given that the electricity and network points are hard-wired into the plaster in the wrong places and most of the floor is intended to be a corridor to a building that doesn't yet exist.

The chap arrives just before half nine, I take the call from upstairs that he's been put into the lift (T.Aldous having put his 'phone through to an empty office again). I tell T.Aldous that the chap is here for the meeting. T.Aldous turns on his heel and disappears into his office. Seth calls me over to say the rep's arrived. I contrive to get the rep and T.Aldous within sight and two arms' lengths. Job done.

Not quite.

T.Aldous tells the rep that they're going to Catty and Mary's accompanying them. The rep goes to get his car, saying he'll meet them up on the car park. T.Aldous disappears. Mary appears, looking for T.Aldous and the rep. She goes upstairs. T.Aldous appears, looking for Mary. We tell him she's gone upstairs to meet the rep. He goes upstairs. Fifteen minutes later we get a call from upstairs to say that the rep's waiting for T.Aldous and Mary and are they still with us. We reply that to the best of our knowledge they're up with them. Seth and Alwyn follow their spoor and find out that instead of going upstairs as T.Aldous arranged they're hanging round the back door. They go upstairs and the last we hear they managed to find their way out of the library and out to the car park.

At twenty to eleven we get a 'phone call from Julia asking if we know where T.Aldous has gotten to as they'd arranged to meet at ten. Julia's worked with him for two decades on and off and should know better.

One size fits most

I enjoyed this email correspondence:

The list of summer holiday events doesn't include Umpty.

It does if you scroll down.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Written in iodine on the tail of his shirt

Warner asks me to arrange for a press release celebrating our performance figures with the online catalogue, which are pretty good so far. Dutifully, I draft some copy and send it to the corporate press wallah for to do any necessary rewrites and branding doodads.

The draft press release doesn't include the word 'library' once.

Oh God, it's this tagging business!

Lise, at Team Robinson, has tagged me, which leads me to panic a bit because I've never bothered to gen up on the social rules of the blogosphere (self-evident statement, really). Let's see if I can get this right without blowing my anonymity...

What were you doing ten years ago?
The same job, though in a better state of mental health.
I'd just failed to buy a terraced house round the corner and had started the process of buying this palatial mansion in its stead.

Five things on (tomorrow's) to-do list:
1. Remember to keep a medical appointment first thing.
2. Hope to catch a glimpse of the attractive lady on the train into work without creeping the poor woman out in the process.
3. Edit at least two web pages and submit them for approval.
4. Finish writing some notes that I've been promising Milton for a month.
5. See if I can fix the last 920 indexing glitches in part of the title database.

What are three of your bad habits?
1. Biting my nails. It ruins my socks.
2. Talking to lamp-posts.
3. Thinking everybody I'm talking to knows who Henry Kendall was.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Feel guilty.

What are some snacks you enjoy?
I'm a fat middle-aged bloke; I've had to give up crisps and peanuts. Leaves me with pistachios, olives, licorice and sesame seed snaps.

What were the last five books you read?
The Dick Tracy Dailies and Sunday Comics Volume 4 - I'm interested in comics history
Showcase Batman Volume 3 - catching the comics I didn't catch when I was back-collecting and probably wouldn't want to afford now
The History of Pugachev by Aleksander Puschkin - a splendidly readable history nicely translated
The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick by Peter Lamont - dry, funny and very well-researched
The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reader by Edgar Wallace - a re-reading of an old favourite; Wallace was the master of the laconic one-liner

What are five jobs you have had?
Museum cataloguer
Welfare benefits adviser
Consumer rights adviser
Librarian for a national charity
Supervising a team of long-term unemployed people (interesting job in the context of my current environment: my success was measured by the proportion of the team who left and got better jobs and/or completed the most parts of a training and career development plan)

Five places that you have lived?
Greater Manchester
Another bit of Greater Manchester
West Midlands
Yet another bit of Greater Manchester

Anyone who wants to be tagged, well, you're tagged.

The land without music

T.Aldous surveys the wreckage that is our working environment.

"We've got far too much stock in boxes," he tells me.

I can only agree.

The flow of the conversation suggests that he's wondering whether or not it's possible to automate the Assistant Librarians. I decide to keep schtum: bringing Policy Team into the later Twentieth Century has been a goal that has defeated and dejected me, I've no great wish to take on the Enid Blyton element mongst the ALs.

Which one's William S. Hart?

Lippy's driven every Library Service vehicle this morning. She's the only one who hasn't had her petrol coupons lost by Mary, who put them somewhere safe and then got distracted.

Nobody's sweetheart now

I've sent a note to library managers asking them to remind staff that we do not currently have self-repairing computers. If a problem's not reported it ain't going to be fixed.

Minimising the carbon footprint

T.Aldous is irritated, quite rightly, by the latest bill he has to pay. The council has entered into a contract with a well-known energy company having negotiated a discount based on a high usage threshold. Those departments that have successfully implemented energy conservation measures, like us, are now being hit with a surcharge going back five years because we haven't hit the threshold target.

This is how local government addresses Kyoto.

I shall drink from your gumboots some invalid wine

A bit upbeat for me, it must be all this sunny weather and ladies in thin frocks. Three o'clock alliteration, but no apologies from me.

The Process Change Ball (after the Brothers Sherman)

We were pootling along unhappily
When some really odd things we began to see:
Our bosses sang a new song.
The same old things still went wrong.
And then things started to get a little strange
When they said: "now listen up, we've got to change.
"Let's re-engineer
"Make it nice and clear
"Refocus and transform it all!"

Come on and crawl
From the wreckage and all.
And a happy time we'll have there,
One and all
At the Process Change Ball.

So we got enthused and set about the task
Of identifying key goals, a big ask.
"Why get ourselves in a tizz?
It kind of works as it is,"
Some soi-disant professionals so said.
While the leaders looked on, lost and looking lead.
What a lark it is,
Straight from the ark it is
Gosh what a buy-in and all!

Come on and crawl
From the wreckage and all.
And a happy time we'll have there,
One and all
At the Process Change Ball.

Monday, July 07, 2008


T.Aldous is in High Dudgeon:

"Has anybody seen Jim?"

"He clocked out just now."

"He knew I wanted to have a meeting with him at five."

This was at ten-past. Tee hee.

More a metaphor than a being

Policy Team have decided to grease the wheels of our change process with an afternoon-long change workshop to look at things like business priorities and resource-mapping.

"We need to build a more flexible library service," says T.Aldous, "and make better use of our staffing resources."

So it's been decided to hold it on Wednesday afternoon when nearly all the staff involved have the day off. The thinking is that most libraries are closed on Wednesday afternoon so the workshop won't disrupt the service. This disruption will happen on the other days when staff will have to take the time back.

Unlike a Thursday afternoon, then, when staff aplenty cover the enquiry desks of the main libraries, half of the branches being closed that afternoon.

Taking the biscuit

We booked a meeting room in the Town Hall for a presentation this morning. The presentation went quite well. The hospitality was interesting...

Lukewarm tea and coffee was provided. We'd bought our own biscuits and were just about to dive into them when one of the lady attendants came in.

"You can't have biscuits."

"They're our own."

"You can't bring in biscuits. It's the rules."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"You should do."

Customer care Helminthdale-style. It turns out that the biscuit ban's a response to last year's scandal; the local rag dubbed it 'Biscuitgate,' in a fit of originality, when it found out that the money spent on the councillor's biscuit allowance was the same as the cut in the funding for the pensioners' day centre at Umpty. Even our councillors were embarassed by this so they cut the biscuit allowance, but in a fit of pique they have decreed that if they can't have biscuits neither can anybody else.

Salome spent most of the meeting waving biscuits and doing the V's at anything likely to be a CCTV camera.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Perplexing the minds of the fair sex

Frog sent out all the gear for the Summer Reading Challenge to the branches, including notes on who, what, where, when and, most importantly, how. Dagmar rings him up:
"Those stickers, do I give them to the kids every time they visit the library or just every time they borrow a book."

"It's like I said in the notes: you only give the stickers out when they borrow a book. It's part of the reward system."

"Well, what it is like, I've been giving them out every time they visit. At this rate I'll soon be running out of them. When are you sending out some more?"

"I won't, you've had them."

"Well, that's no good, is it?"
I suggest to him that he sends the pile of stickers from last year's Reading Challenge which Dagmar swore blind she didn't have when Frog was trying to address a late flurry of interest from children at Spadespit Library.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Why don't you come here on Sundays? We're closed on Sundays.

Last year Dagmar complained that there wasn't any point in having the children's performer come to Raccoonville Library in August because it was too late in the summer holiday and none of the kids would be coming in.

Frog's booked Raccoonville's entertainer for July. Dagmar has complained that it's too early because the local private school will still be in term.


We've had a lot of talk about working more flexibly and making smarter use of limited resources lately.

Which will be why this week's priorities have been light bulbs, bunting and a summer holiday event at a library we closed five years ago.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Still on 78

Thelma toddles over with a question.

"You know how I'm getting two more PCs at Epiphany..."

"Let's pretend that I do."

"When we re-open Epiphany could I rename the PCs?"

"Yes, if you want. One to eight is good."

"I thought I could name them after musicians."

"Henry Hall, Geraldo, Joe Loss, Monte Rey... ?"


"When's your next birthday?"

"Next week. It's a big one."

"Which one?"

"Three o."

"You might want to go away now."

Every day is a picnic

Policy Team have decamped to who knows where for a strategy meeting.
"Who's in charge?"
asks Seth, just as Mary wanders in to do something or other to make herself almost but not quite as late for the meeting as T.Aldous.
"Is it you?"

"No, I'm going out now."

"It must be Maisie then," he says, winking at Maisie.

"Certainly not. Frog is in charge."

This comes as a surprise, again, to Frog. Luckily he's empowered and informed to take the helm should an emergency occur. Mid-afternoon he has to go out to Senebene Library for an after-school club so he has to pass the helm to me. The power immediately goes to my head and I decide to exercise the old-school librarian's right to droit de seigneur.
"Send me a virgin for to deflower!"
I tell the staff.

It turns out that I'm the only one in the building.

If it doesn't freak you out you're already wierd

Noreen's having a couple of days off to watch the tennis so it's Betty's turn to chip away at the month-long backlog of incoming stock and get the orders through for the pre-summer holiday reading panic. Imagine, then, her delight when Mary toddles over and asks:

"Do you think you could go on the Mobile Library today?"

Betty had the sense to say no.


We're trying to pre-plan a partnership meeting with a couple of local community groups when Wendy Muffplaster pipes up:

"Well it all depends on what pay scale they're on. If they're on a higher scale than us we'll just have to do what they say."

"No," I respond, "it depends on what we're talking about and what we agree is the best option for delivering something useful."

"Not really. If they're on Principal Officer grade they'll always have the last say."

"It doesn't matter what scale you're on. If you're on scale 5 and everyone agrees that you've a better idea than the person on PO6 then you'll be going along with your plan."

"What makes you say that?"

"I've done it."

I have this awful mental picture of a group of people getting together for a meeting and starting of with: "OK then, what pay scale is everybody on, just so's we know who gets to make the decisions."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Slideshows in the circus of human suffering

Milkbeck Library has its centenary this week, something that has been bruited loud and hard across the whole service in accordance with our new communications strategy. Which is to say that a couple of people know about it and the party that's to be held there.

It has been decided that the two slide projectors that were unearthed when the meeting room was almost cleared for the creation of the management suite will be employed in some strange capacity. T.Aldous is surprised to find that they don't work because the bulbs are broken. Salome is running about covering two-and-a-half posts (Bronwyn having been translated into Three-jobs-rolled-into-one-and-not-just-the-Booksale-Co-ordinator and Lola being on maternity leave). So T.Aldous gives her the job of sourcing replacement light bulbs.

The first quote provided by Procurement is £200. All hell breaks loose, but the slide projectors must go on so this is given the nod by T.Aldous. Raised eyebrows in the lower ranks. Salome contacted the company that sells the bulbs and is told they'll be £6 each. Being an honest sort she doesn't try to pocket the difference.

"While you're out, could you pick up some bunting?"

Good to know we're working smarter, not harder.

Is it on the trolley?

For a while now Bronwyn and Frog have been playing a game when they're covering on the enquiry desk in Lending. I've noticed them scoring points but hadn't sussed the game until Bronwyn explained it to me. The aim of the game is to see how often you can legitimately say to customers:

"Is it on the trolley? Can you point to it?"

à la Julie Waters in the old "Victoria Wood on TV" sketch.

Given how often kids go to the desk saying: "I want the book my friend just brought in" the score lines can get into cricket match proportions.

Ritorno dell'inutile

Bronwyn felt quite chuffed that she'd managed to quietly disappear the Italian children's books that have been languishing in boxes for the past decade. Right up to the point when Dutch Bend Library puts in a request for some "children's books written in Italian language."

"Bugger," says Bronwyn, "I could have off-loaded all that old stuff onto them and saved myself all that cloak and dagger stuff."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


The management suite is still in some disarray. When Seth opened the building up this morning he found that T.Aldous had left a huge lump of metal in the middle of the floor with a note:

What is this from? Where should it go?

Seth picked it up, the bottom fell off and smacked him on the toe. So it's gone the way of many things on the quiet.

Jim and Milton are seriously considering putting up a notice on the office door saying: "Do not leave this office empty-handed. Take something extra away with you."

Your television is being controlled by the Woodcraft Folk

If one of our Reference Librarians doesn't stop bleating that she's "not been trained in the use of online encyclopedias" and hasn't "had time to look at anything on the internet" in the decade that she's had access to the web on her works PC I'm going to ask her where she went on her "how to peel an orange" course so that I can send somebody on it as part of their annual Performance Review.

Mister Stretch

Following the Webrarian's comment the other day, Frog introduces me to Mr. Stretch, one of the fun things to win in this year's Summer Reading Challenge. Thanks to Gora Gray for this picture of the creature.

If we were going to have bulk buys from the Harper's Bizarre catalogue I'd have preferred the prolapsing sheep or The Incredible Growing Rabbit. Which is probably why I'm not the one providing children's library services.