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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

He flung down his pudding and cursed

Here we go. Mary's told the Acq. Team that there'll be halal meat for lunch at the staff training day.

"I'm not having halal meat, it's not killed in a humane fashion," says Noreen.

"It isn't compulsory. And bear in mind that it was Mary who told you that the lunch at the last session was going to be spicy."

"Well it was spicy."

"There was a plate of bhajis in amongst the cheese sandwiches and sausage rolls..."

"Well I'm not having halal meat."

"There'll probably be some halal meat for those who require it but there will be lots of other options, as per usual. I promise you, the pork pies and the sausage rolls and cocktail sausages won't be made of halal meat. Honest."

"Well, Mary's looking into it for us. I'd take sandwiches along just in case, Betty."

Oh dear...

You know it is, it really is

Mary's asked me for some figures on the status of our stock. Much to both of our suprise, I find that 47% of the lending stock bought in 2006/7 has never been on loan.

Not quite so much to our surprise, the libraries with hugely disproportionately moribund stock are those with resident librarians.

If they're not selecting the stock, editing the stock or promoting the stock, and if they don't want to do reader advisory on the enquiry desk, what are they actually doing that requires librarians?

What fun they have (if given half the chance)

It has been decided that we'll have an all-day, all-staff training day in a couple of weeks to look at communications and marketing. It has also been decided that this will be a good time to unveil our secret communications strategy.

Maudie's been given the job of creating and distributing the invitations. Each delivered in a sealed envelope so that it can be confirmed that each has been dispatched to its intended.

"We're using rather a lot of envelopes in this exercise, aren't we?" I asked Maudie when she gave me mine.

"Let's not go there."


"If you're working that day you've got to go to it."

"So why the RSVP?"

"I am only obeying orders. I don't make up the rules," replied Maudie, who has obviously asked that question before me.

Sort of everything I've never wanted

Three 'phone calls so far today on the same theme, all from upstairs:

"We keep being thrown off the network."

"Yes, there are major network problems. It's affecting everyone in the council."

IT know about it and are trying to nail it but it's been going on for three weeks now. Every day they send everybody an email to say that there's been no progress and that we'll continue to have network problems for the foreseeable. I've sent emails to this effect to all library staff both via Outlook and the library management system. Sybil sent an email to this effect on the LMS last Saturday. I think we have established that there are major network problems.

"But we keep losing the connection to the People's Network."

"Yes, there are major network problems."

"So when's it being sorted?"

"IT are looking into it but they've spent three weeks so far on it and still not found a solution. It's something we're just going to have to cope with until they can nail it."

"But why can't we print to the network printer?"

"Perhaps because there are major network problems."

"But why won't it print?"

I wouldn't mind if these were new members of staff, all of whom take these problems in their stride.

Please God, don't let the network problems affect the reference library at Dutch Bend. I couldn't bear the conversation.

No tolerance

I was in a good mood right up to two minutes after walking into the building.

"Dagmar rang you," says Noreen. "Actually, she rang you at twenty-past eight to say that she was having problems logging onto the network. Maudie picked the call up and told her that you weren't in yet. No sooner had she put the 'phone down than Bronwyn rings your number again asking if you were in."

"What did you say?" I asked, biting the inside of my cheek.

"I remided her that Maudie had just that moment told her that you hadn't and that that was still entirely true."

I managed to get my coat off before I copped for the next one. One of our borrowers is taking the piss, and has been since 2001 (I checked his record on the system). Basically, he reckons he shouldn't ever have to pay fines for overdue books because he's an expert in computer systems and he renews his loans "religiously" a week before they're due back and yet they're overdue when he brings them back.

"Is there any way that the system would be causing this problem?"

"Every possibility, though the renewals system isn't at fault. The problem is systemic but not technical. If there were a technical problem why would it only pick on him and only him for a period of seven years regardless of whether he was renewing in person, over the 'phone, leaving messages on lending's answerphone, renewing via the call centre or renewing online?"

"So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that this borrower has learned that if he goes to the enquiry desk upstairs and says that the system - whichever one - failed to renew his loans then he'll get his fines waived and he'll get his rocks off on feeling superior to whichever poor schmoo is on the desk on the day."

"So what do you suggest we do?"

"I suggest that next time he should be advised that we've established that all the available systems renew his loans entirely adequately and you may want to offer to do a user education session with him to make sure he understands how to renew online effectively. And not keep waiving his fines. Good customer care isn't about making front-line staff act as doormats for arseholes."

There are three layers of management in lending. Why is that question coming to me? (Rhetorical question: it's coming to me because I'll try to answer the question.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Morse code melody

As if life at work holds too few horrors we receive a new photocopier-cum-printer. All singing, all dancing, all horrible. None of us knew it was coming and nobody knew whether or not what was delivered is what was ordered. Nor even whether or not we should have taken delivery of the sticky-out feet at the bottom.

"I can take them off if you want," offers the engineer.

We didn't take him up on the offer. It could be that it was the feet that sold the thing to whoever ordered it.

In order to accomodate the behemoth we've had to move the old photocopier out of the way (don't go there: if it goes true to form it'll still be parked here when the next glacier comes a-strolling) and a couple of desks which have had to be put where the next lot of incoming boxes were going to go.

To put the tin lid on the deal, the thing doesn't run in silent mode. If you switch it on it emits a high-pitched beep. Press a button and it emits a high-pitched beep. Change the zoom setting and it emits three high-pitched beeps. Copy a piece of paper, it emits five high-pitched beeps. Copy a document, it emits five high-pitched beeps each time it vomits out a sheet of paper. What joy while Maudie prints a forty-page document for T. Aldous...

...one page printed, beep beep beep beep beep...
...second page printed, beep beep beep beep beep...
...third page printed, beep beep beep beep beep...
...fourth page printed, beep beep beep beep beep...


I've gone through all the manuals and I've searched in vain for the speakers on the beast so that I can stick sellotape over it. Great God this is an awful place.

How frequently erroneous are the views of men in regard to matters of moment

Norbert rings up from Roadkill Library. He's cock-a-hoop because he's passed his ECDL course and is now officially competent in IT in public libraries, despite his IT qualifications and work experience as a computer technician.

"Let's see what excuse they invent this time to keep me off the career progression path!"

It'll probably be the colour of his living room wall or something.

"By the way," he says, "has anyone from Dutch Bend told you that their PAC isn't working?"


"Well, it isn't. The switch on the processor's broken but they wouldn't believe me."

I do, so I've reported it to computer maintenance. Then I rang Dutch Bend to tell them that their PAC's broken.

"How did you know?"

"I'm Systems Librarian. I saw it in my tea leaves."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blog Horror

Blog Horror! Marianne over at The MLxperience has tagged me for the "How I got started blogging" meme.

I'd love to say that I started blogging as a concerted effort at creative writing but it would be a dead lie. I just drifted into it. I blame the medical profession.

I'd been going through yet another bad patch at work which had gotten to the stage where even I had to admit that I wasn't coping with the nonsense any more. Spurning the medical advice that I had the choice of either taking psychoactive drugs or chucking the job and taking my chances in the employment market, I decided to pay attention to one comment from my doctor and started to write a journal. And failed miserably, as have all my efforts at writing a diary over the years. I'm just not the sort of person who can keep a diary going for very long. However, I am the sort of person who can tell a story, however badly. And this job had provided me with a steady stream of entirely unlikely stories over the years. So I decided that rather than keeping a formal journal I'd write up each stupidity as it came along, the idea being to externalise the anger and frustration and to put the necessary bit of distance between myself and the things that were doing me damage. I still found myself struggling: the arthritis in my hands makes it difficult to write more than a page at a time without getting very sore, so I took to the keyboard. By one of those eerie coincidences, at about this time I was training staff and public alike in the use of social networking tools like Facebook, Myspace and Blogger (needless to say, the public were much the more receptive) and it occurred to me that I could use blogger as the writing tool.

I'll admit upfront that then, and now, my primary audience is myself. It's a pretty self-indulgent effort but I don't pretend that it is anything more than an old bloke's prolonged whinge about his job. I'm astonished that anybody else bothers reading it, let alone commenting, bookmarking, or even using it as in staff training materials(!!!) It still manages to fulfil its primary function, which is to help me cope with my workplace. Instead of sitting and fizzing, or kicking the wall down, or both, I can mentally take a step back and ask myself: "well, my lad, how are you going to write that one up then?" It falls down a bit when I come to one of the off-limits areas (I don't discuss personnel issues on this blog as I think they're too close to the bone and technically none of my damn business) and I have to be a lot more circumspect these days as a few people know who they think I really am, but I can generally live with that.

How any of you cope with all this drivel is beyond me.

Let's see what Gadjo Dilo, The Topiary Cow and Lavinia have got to say for themselves.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

There's always time for a laugh in the middle of our devotions

I was in a series of meetings yesterday with people from elsewhere in corporate Helminthdale. I was chatting with a bloke from Corporate Oversight who asked what it was like working in libraries these days. I heard myself say:

"The job's hell but the work's really interesting. I can't imagine a more exciting time to be working in public libraries."

And it's true, even taking on board his rejoinder that "most people working in libraries probably chose it precisely because it wouldn't be exciting." I can't imagine a more exciting time to be working in public libraries: the political agenda is full of talk of the importance of information literacy; cultural identity; knowledge-based economies; social cohesion and more reading initiatives than you could shake a stick at. All the prizes are there for the taking.

And the librarians are sulking in the car park and won't even take a step into the dance hall because they didn't get to choose the venue.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Straight from the little Mexican donkey's mouth himself

Frog is back from a few days' holiday and already delighted by a conversation he's just had with Mary.

"I was looking everywhere for the A4 flipchart holder the other day. I found it in the end but if I'd had your mobile 'phone number I could have called you to ask you if you knew who'd had it."

Besides the intrusion on Frog's holiday, I don't see why she couldn't have bought another flipchart holder, it wouldn't have broken the bank. Needless to say, he didn't let her have the number.

"She bloody would have done it!" he says.

You're playing my tune out of tune

We're the latest library authority to receive a letter from the Performing Rights Society telling us that we have to buy music licences for each of our libraries because we're provide public access to the internet and customers may look up a site with music on it.

I'm asked for input on a response. I suggest:

Dear chancer,

Why don't you just fuck off.

Yours sincerely

They know, you know

One of our online systems automatically assigns a password to you when you start a working session.

Mimsie's sulking because the password just assigned to her was SUNKEN CRUTCH

There but for the grace of God...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I love the way your mind works, I've never seen it before

One of those interesting 'phone calls. It will surprise you not one whit that it came from the Reference Library.

"Hello Kevin, can you take this call?"

"Who is it and what do they want?"

"It's the bank. They want to know if they can run Windows on our computer."


Bank: "Hello?"

"Hello, can I help you?"

"We've got some training disks for Windows. Can we run them on your PCs?"

"I'm sorry, you can't run your own programmes on our PCs. They've been set up so that..."

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you."

"Sorry. You can't run your own programmes on..."

"I still can't hear you."

(louder) "Can you hear me now?"


(softly) "Tell you what, I'll ring you back."

It's difficult to know who's worse, the reference librarians or the bank.

Nothing but apricots for dinner again

Taking a breather from a meeting with corporate Helminthdale I get talking with a friend in the Children & Families Section. She's still fuming from an incident yesterday afternoon.

"Some people... We had a presentation at St. Thora's yesterday. The school had gone to the effort of decorating the place to welcome the guests and the kids had baked especially. Great big chocolate chip cookies they made. And they were really nice. Three thirty we did the presentation. Three thirty, remember that it's important.

"I was going through the feedback forms last night and do you know what they'd said? 'The biscuits were nice but sandwiches would have been better.' Cheeky buggers!"

I'm not remotely surprised. Give them a bun and they'll demand a three-piece suite.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Excuse me, Mr. Michaelangelo, what time does the big picture start?

Nothing much today.

The network did as the network does. Some boxes that were expected urgently didn't arrive. Some boxes that weren't expected did. A pile of boxes of Book Off books appeared as if by magic between Bronwyn's and Frog's desks. A pile of boxes of Book You books mysteriously disappeared from a depot in Umpty. Someone brought in chocolate. Somebody used up all of Lending's milk. Urgent orders have gone unsigned because it's urgent that somebody talks about their daughter's holiday that she hasn't gone on yet. Someone didn't tell somebody they were scheduled to do a storytime in the week they've booked for a holiday on a fishing smack in Polesworth. Somebody didn't tell somebody that they needed statistics for a report that should have been submitted last Tuesday. And somebody didn't tell anybody that they'd changed the password for logging on all Lending's PCs. Two senior managers are sulking about batteries. Two senior managers are sulking about CDs. Two senior managers are sulking for being told off for sulking. One very senior manager has given up trying to get performance data from his senior managers when he needs it. Three people are off sick with winter vomiting virus. Two people are off sick with the scutters. Five people are covering six service points. Two senior managers have said: "we need to get together to plan staff resource allocation."

All quiet, nothing to see. I hope I'll have something to write about tomorrow.

Monday, September 22, 2008

All kats are gray in the dark

For the umpteenth time today the corporate network starts having random drop-outs. And for the umpteenth time today I get a bevvy of 'phone calls from libraries reporting that all the PCs have gone off again. To add to the joy, I can't contact the network helpdesk because
  1. My PC's one of the ones kicked off the network; and
  2. The helpdesk's telephone system has been kicked offline, too

I pop into the Management Suite to give Milton the story to date in case he gets complaints from the usual suspects. Once I've finished, Doreen pipes up.

"Are you going to ring around the libraries to let them know what's happening."

"They already know: they've been ringing me up to tell me."

"I think you need to ring them up so that they know."

"OK, I shall go away and waste a pile of time ringing people up to tell them what they know and have told me themselves."


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The seven-inch import section

It's a funny old thing this interweb whatsit. Some poor soul did a Google search for "13 days up my arse" and came to this blog.

Who'd have thought.

Mind, you it would have been an excellent summing-up of the last end-of-year processes.

Mrs. Musgrove's Little Ray Of Sunshine Writes

You Are a Life Blogger!

Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.

If it happens, you blog it. And you make it as entertaining as possible.

You may be guilty of over-sharing a bit on your blog, but you can't help it.

Your life is truly an open book. Or in this case, an open blog!

Friday, September 19, 2008


Bronwyn is puzzled.

"There were twelve boxes in that pile behind my desk yesterday when I went home. Now there are fifteen. And look what's in these three boxes!"

Promotional material for one of January's Reading Agency events.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In leggus, likus bitum yeggus

Seth and Alwyn are out in the van, shit-shifting as per. This time it's the old Roadkill Library. That's the old Roadkill Library that had to be cleared out by June. Anyway...

Lending ring down asking if the lads are around. They're needed to "persuade" some of the local youths to leave the library after an altercation. Noreen takes the call, tells them that they're not about and then goes and hunts down Doreen, who is the Group Librarian for Helminthdale Central.

"Can 't they deal with it themselves?" asks Doreen.

"No, that's why they're trying to get hold of Seth or Alwyn. Do you want me to transfer the 'phone call to you?"

"No. Just keep an eye out to see when Seth's back and if you see him let him know that there's a problem and he might want to contact the shopping centre's security."

With great power comes responsibility.

The jungle telegraph

Good news: it's been decided to temporarily fill one of the vacancies in the Acq. Team that have been lingering for a few years.

Bad news: I got to know who's been appointed to the post twenty minutes before the Acq. Team are officially told that it's going to be advertised internally. I only found out because Pansy rang me up and asked:

"Is it right was they've been saying at Senebene that Lydia Makepiece is going to be working in the Acq. Team?"

Eyebrows, ears and arseholes

There's always some poor sod worse off than yourself...

The whole atmosphere here has been somewhat different since they put that spyware crap on the library assistants' computer without my knowledge. I found out about it from them and luckily it didn't land anyone into too much trouble before I got rid. This crap has to stop. As far as I know it has but I've been shunned at some levels for protesting about it in the first place. Just my opinion, but if you have a problem with an employee there are many other ways to go about handling it rather than just blatantly spying on them.

You can rely on library managers to do the wrong thing the world over.

Apparently the look-alike was too expensive

Bronwyn was doing this week's corporate team briefing for the Acq. Team when she noticed that Mary was standing in the doorway watching. After five minutes she could bear it no longer.

"Do you want me for anything?" she asked.

"No, no, I was just watching."

Bronwyn is infinitely more polite than me. I would have asked Mary if she hadn't anything better to do. Bronwyn invited her to sit down:

"It's not a secret meeting, you're welcome to join us."

Needless to say, Mary then took over the meeting, talked about whatever it was that was whittling at her this morning, then about her daughter, then an update on the squirrel at home.

"We'll catch up with the rest of the briefing later," Bronwyn tells Betty and Noreen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keep right on to the end of the woad

Noreen's doing the reference periodicals again. I can always tell: all the body language says: "WTF?!?!?" and only her good Catholic background stops her saying it.

"Just what is the point of this?" she asks.

"What?" I ask.

"You did all that work with local studies. When did the textile industry finally shut up shop round here?"

"1987. Why?"

"Why do we still buy a subscription to 'International Madder Processing Gazette?'"

"Because the Reference Librarians have to 'spend their share of the book fund.' You know this."

"What a waste of public money."

Not as much as the invoice for 'The European Directory of Carding" she had to process next.

All properly dubbined

Lola's back from a year's maternity leave.

"Ee, it's just like I've never been away."

"Them urgent pieces of work are still waiting for you on your desk."

And so they were.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


You'd think I'd learn by now.

"What are we doing for European Day of Languages?" I ask.

"Policy Team are turning English into a foreign language."

Now they're staying up my chimney

A couple of years ago a kindly benefactor gave us quite a lot of money to buy books for the good of the local people. After a couple of years of the usual from our managers they've decided that they'd quite like to see something for the money, please.

We're still running vacancies in the Acq. Team. There's a special buy next week to get a load of new stock for Catty Library's re-opening (ha ha ha ha ha ha!). There's still the kids' audiobooks hanging over them like the Biscuit of Damocles. After a very slow August, with nobody doing any orders for a fortnight either because nobody could/would sign them or nobody could do stock selection we're now desperately catching up with the pre-Christmas rush. And we're still awaiting decisions on a pile of reference standing orders (me, I'd scrap the lot and work on the basis that any expenditure on this stock needs to be justified on a case-by-case basis)(but then I'm the Fascist systems guy).

Imagine, then, their delight on being told by Mary that on top of all that all the stock for the benefactor's collection needs to be bought, received and ordered urgently in the next few weeks. Especially as this method of purchasing creates twice as much work as doing it properly (I won't bore you with the details but most stock purchasing system prefer the workflow to run select-order-receive-invoice-pay and don't take well to receive-select-pay-order-invoice)(nor do auditors, but that's another story).

"You've waited until now?" asks Noreen.

There's better to come. Apparently there's nowhere for this stock to go yet. Noreen made a suggestion. Time was I was the only person using that sort of figure of speech in this library.

"It's only going to be about sixty boxes of books," says Mary.

Piece of cake. They can go in the fire exit corridor same as usual. Except that that's already full of boxes of children's stock to go to Catty; a huge pile of boxes of leaflets; some new ladders and a couple of things I don't want to go near in case they bite.

"Don't worry," I tell Noreen, "I've got plenty of room."

Can you hear the flowers yawning?

Nancy's team had congregated round their desks, sorting out the next few days' deliveries for housebound customers, the boxes for tomorrow morning's Blind Book Club at Umpty Library and the nursing home deliveries for Catty and Carbootsale. I couldn't resist it...

"I see, while the cat's away... Trying to fill Nancy's shoes, eh?"

"Oh no. We couldn't cope with the hard work of all that sitting down doing the crossword," replies Lippy.

It disgusts me to know how much it irks me that Nancy's on the same pay scale as me. It doesn't irk me as much as the people she's paid to manage.

Lines of worries appeared with age

Every year the council has to survey a few thousand people in the Borough to find the answers to a suite of fatuous questions set by H.M. Government. The funding for social services in your area is determined by the number of people who give the correct answer to "Is your dog's name Lucky?"

The council's decided that it's going to do a staff softener-upper prior to this year's effort. It's been posted onto the corporate extranet and we're all invited to join in.

"In a team, or by yourself, answer the questions, complete the form, send it in and you could win a prize!"

Hmm. Four of the first ten questions are about pubs in the Borough. It doesn't need a lot of paranoia to suspect that this is just a way of identifying the piss artists with time on their hands who wouldn't be missed in the event of another financial crisis.

Kuriosity in Kokonino

A visitor from a parallel universe intrudes on my work time.

"That's a good idea you had about the poetry," says Doreen (for it is she), "but in future it would be best if you sent that to Frog and then he would action it. If you send ideas to everyone they may just get on with it themselves."

"Yes... there are a few issues about communications aren't there...?"

"I see that as Frog's job to do, seeing as it's about children's work."

"Ah yes. There are certain problems that those of us with Borough-wide responsibilities have with trying to get things to happen within our libraries."

"Yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes we need to tell people to just do as they're told."

"Like encouraging customers to use our online services, or reporting faults properly, or making sure they've not got overdue loans themselves... Yes, I think I'd agree, Doreen. Of course, I could tell people to do as they're told until I'm blue in the face but it's pretty much down to the supervision and line management on the ground..."

"Frog needs to take more responsibility onto himself in his position."

"That's a point of view... I think we could do with establishing a few action lines."

Something very odd is going on in our management suite. It's bad enough that they're asking me to act as referee in some of their spats between themselves; I'm not taking their side in spats with my peers, unless my peers are being particularly stupid.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A National Health gigolo

Email from Jim in his new job:

... You'd like it here. The word-processing software automatically puts the accents into words like débâcle.

A suddenly-extensible divining stick

This has started early: Jim's barely out of the door.

When will you be putting the performance figures onto the shared drive? They're needed urgently.

I didn't know I was.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Six-five special

Roll out your dancing trousers!

(with all due respects and abject apologies to Buddy and Bill)

The calendar says two-oh-oh-eight
But here it's 1958
And I'm working
In the library.

We automate, lay networks down,
But act like we're still stuck in Browne.
It's not working
In the library.

Oh, library! library!
What will become of me?

I say that projects are months late
But still they stall and obfuscate.
This is 'working'
In the library.


...Yes I'm working in the library.

Oh library! library!
When will retirement be?

The leadership's a formless game:
Disrupt and change and stay the same.
Oh it's painful
In the library.

In the library...


One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock block.
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock block.
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock block.
We're gonna block around the clock tonight.

Get your business plans filed in that tray
You'll not get any done this day.
We're gonna block around the clock tonight;
Prevaricate and wait and keep lids tight.
We're gonna block, grid-a-lock and crock the lot tonight.

We've given you a job to do
Now don't get thinking we'll help you.
We're gonna block around the clock tonight;
We'll use a sock to block any chinks of light.
We'll run amok, all to cock, around the clock tonight.

(guitars and buck-passing)

We've vague outcomes kept 'neath the veil
Set up so you can only fail.
We're gonna chock around the clock tonight;
Chuffin' eck we'll wreck anything that's right.
Gonna chock, gonna block around the clock tonight.

You're trying to escape your fate.
We garble, muddle, complicate.
We're gonna block around the clock tonight;
Post-hoc schlock will make it all a fright.
Gonna knock all to cock all you think you've got tonight.

(saxophones amidst the scapegoating)

So your deadline's passed, you're running late
Soon you can procrastinate.
We're gonna block the lot and keep things tight.
We're goona progress-lock everything in sight.
We're gonna block, gonna block the whole damn lot tonight.

90% Ovaltine

By way of being a hymn to the librarians in one of our main libraries...

Now we're fully automated
We don't need all them there cards,
Kept in date and surname order
Stuck in trays in serried yards.
What? You wouldn't want to lose them?
"They may fill some unknown void."
If you've time for real-time update
Could be you're under-employed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The froth-blower's anthem


"I've often wondered what Doreen actually does... Turns out she can sink a lot of wine at people's leaving do's."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nymphs and shepherds

Jim's last day and he's demob-happy.

"Are you sure the tunnel's ready? I've got my acorn coffee and my forged passport."

He's spent this week putting all his files in order and making sure that Policy Team have got notes about all the projects and programmes currently on the go and the current state of play with all the performance indicators. Sure in the knowledge that they won't pay any attention whatsoever.

I'll miss him, it was nice to have somebody on the books who understands performance management.

Your moment of slight nasal congestion is at hand

Mary's asked me if I'm around next week because she wants to talk to me about the children's audiobooks she's put the blocks on. She wants to know how the system would deal with fines and charges for these things and the loan rules that Bronwyn and I cobbled together earlier. To be fair, she's got some good points about the implications of imposing replacement charges on children when items can cost thirty pounds or more, for instance.

At some point one hopes that Julia and Mary have a chat about all this some time soon. In a sensible environment they'd have gotten their heads together a few months ago to plan the new stock profile for Catty Library. As it is, the two of the sit six feet away in the Management Suite so communication is impossible.

Sideshows in the circus of human suffering

I bump into Henry Irving, who's spent this week dividing his time between Sheep City story times, meetings with Sports Development about the current financial crisis in the Lido and meetings with the museums staff about their actually providing some input to the museum cataloguing system some time before the sun goes out.

"What-o, old fruit!" I cry, "how's things?"

"War is Hell," he replies.

Do not drive into smoke

Catty Library's been closed all year while they put new walls, ceiling and floors onto the building. Rumour has it that it'll soon be re-opening (possibly the same rumour that had it re-opening in May, June, July and August). So now Julia's starting to think about getting something different stock-wise for the library's opening. Like the unlicensed DVDs that were bought for Roadkill or the e-books that are still in Doreen's office. Noreen was delighted to find that she's got to order a pile of children's MP4 audiobooks "urgently." Bronwyn spent an hour turning the marked-up supplier's catalogue into a list that could actually be used to create an order (including finding the ISBNs of the items that had been obliterated by the 'buy this' ticks). Even so, Noreen's still a bit brittle about it all (too much experience), so it came as no surprise to find her going through the worry list.

"What collection are we buying them for? I'll need that for the order."

Luckily enough, Bronwyn had the sense to ask me what we needed to do so that we could decide on the collection and loan rules for these items. Luckily she's not afraid of making decisions so it only took us five minutes to sort. In any other walk of life this would be an asset to her career development but hereabouts she's labouring with a disability.

"I just wanted to check this with you; you don't have to do it now."

"No, no, now's the time to do it. Noreen and Betty will be relieved at only having to do the cataloguing once this time. Instead of the usual rigmarole with Mary."

All was plain sailing until Noreen asked:

"Which budget are we paying for these from?"

Bronwyn's got authority over the stock but not the budgets, so she had to ask Mary. Who threw her toys out of the pram because she didn't know anything about it. She's put the blocks on the order until she's had a chat about it with T.Aldous.

The one sure bet is that this urgent order's going to be phenomenally more urgent by the time it comes to being sent!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Good enough for now

"How did the re-opening go?" I asked Thelma.

"I was very lucky: three minutes after T.Aldous turned up the Health & Safety man came to check the fire escapes."

This story shall the good man teach his son

Frog's working with local schools and playgroups on a project to provide children with positive role models. He's been doing a few story times in the hope of being a positive role model despite being, as he says, "a tired old git."

The staff demographic for the Library Service is disproportionately female and the demographic for "The Professionals" is overwhelmingly ladies-of-a-certain-age.

Over the past year Frog's been working with the Assistant Librarians to train Library Assistants ("non-professionals" in the public library sector jargon)(no comment at this moment in time) so that they can be coerced into doing provide story times in the branch libraries, freeing the Assistant Librarians up to do other things.

Frog suggested that seeing as how Elmo's had the training and is interested in doing something with it he could be involved in the male role model project. No can do, said Doreen, the staffing situation's not good. Now that the staffing situation is slightly less bad he suggested it again. This time he was told that Elmo didn't have enough experience to do it. Frog pointed out that he wouldn't get the experience without getting the experience, to no avail.

In response to some strangely intemperate language, Mary and Doreen collared him by the photocopier.

"Why can't one of the Assistant Librarians do this?"

"They're all female."

"So why does it have to be you or Elmo? All the Assistant Librarians can do storytimes, so there's no need for you or him to get involved."

"This is about male role models. They can't do it."

"Well, I can't see why not."

"None of them are equipped for the job."

"You're just being difficult."

I thought he was very good. I'd have been drawing diagrams by that point.

All among the girls and boys

Frog and I were discussing a few projects that loom on the horizon.

"We've been discussing these in Mary's Monday Morning Meetings," he says. "It's a shame you can't come to these."

"She asked Milton if I could come to them and I said yes."


"She's not told you that, has she?"


I took a 'phone call for Bronwyn, who's off-site arranging a reading event for next week. It's Dagmar from Raccoonville.

"Is Bronwyn in?"

"No, sorry."

"Is there anyone else who knows about the 'Prescribed Books' collection?"

Like many other authorities we're now working with the Health Service to provide collections of books that doctors can prescribe to patients as part of the therapeutic process. About half are about the effects of particular physical diseases and how to live with them, including information about lifestyle and dietary changes that can make a difference. The rest deal with mental health issues and include a lot of self-help books about dealing with anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders. The idea is that the doctor prescribes the book, the customer goes to their local library and we let them have the book without requiring them to volunteer so much as their name (they're issued to an anonymous 'Prescribe Books' borrower). That way, patient confidentiality is assured.

This is the conversation I had with Dagmar, who was speaking from the public counter...

"Mary knows about it best but she's not in. Can I take a message?"

"No. I need to speak with somebody about this collection."

"I might be able to help. What's the question?"

"I've got a customer here who's been prescribed one of these books and they've brought in the wrong part of the prescription. Can I let them have it?"

"Given the circumstances it wouldn't be altogether surprising if they've brought the wrong bit of paper. Issue the book to them."

"So it's OK to let them have it?"

"Yes. Yes it is."

I like Dagmar but something happens to her when she gets behind that counter.

Too honest

I must behave myself:

To: Kevin Musgrove
Date: 11 September 2008, 09:25am
Subject: Communications training for library staff
I've been trying to contact your management group to find out what they need me to bring to the training session I'm doing for staff next month. I've not had any replies. Are any of them available this week do you know?

From: Kevin Musgrove
Date: 11 September 2008, 09:31am
Subject: Re: Communications training for library staff
Have you tried a seance?

His moustache was nicely waxed and one foot long

Henry Irving's in a bate, and not without reason. A couple of months ago he arranged with Mary for Frog to do some story events as part of this year's Step Into September At Sheep City programme. The first Frog knew about it was when he bumped into somebody in Sainsbury's and they asked: "looking forward to coming to see us next week?" Needless to say, Mary hadn't told Frog that this had been arranged.

Hurried consultations and diary-checkings on Monday led to arrangements being made whereby Frog does a couple of sessions when he's free and Henry does the ones that he can't make because of prior engagements. There is an entertaining flurry of emails between the two as they cobble together a selection of stories and activities appropriate for the billed themes (the swinging sixties and the First World War, not necessarily in that order). This morning Henry hurries over to collect the stories and props for the first session (he reckons it's 'Lulu sings Wilfred Owen').

"Have you seen a copy of the whole programme yet?" he asks Frog.

"Only the one you emailed to me on Monday."

"It'll still be in that woman's sodding 'unread emails' folder."

And thus is partnership working effected.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The humanity of the native peoples

Had lunch with Ken Barmy (he was en route to somewhere or other and stopped for a butty and a cup of tea). We shared impressions of our colonial cousins: he's just back from a fortnight's worth of what he calls "taking the magic of rain to the dought-ridden prairie." One of the things that impressed us both is that even small towns have good-sized libraries and that even if the book stock is often weak there's nearly some reader development activity or computer literacy programme going on.

"I look at what they're doing with what they've got and I think to myself: 'we should be able to do better than that, we've got much more resources than them.' But we don't," he says.

"I wonder why we don't," I muse.

"I think it's a cultural thing. It's dead easy to be cynical, and I am, but if your constitution says that you've got a God-given right to the pursuit of happiness it probably pre-disposes you to thinking that things can be done, whereas we're constantly having to fight the mindset that says that nothing can be done unless you provide five proofs of evidence and a watertight answer to the response that 'ah yes, but they don't have the problems we have...'

"Doesn't matter how good your people are, and we've got some good 'uns (don't tell them I said that, mind, they'd only worry), if that's the prevailing culture you're setting them up to fail."

By gum, I think he may be right. Or else the sun has gotten to us both.

Wobbly fun not withstanding

As I'm coming out of the butty shop I bump into Lindie Minto, one of our Library Assistants, almost literally. She's on crutches, having ruptured her Achilles tendon falling off her husband.

"I'm dead bored. I want to be back at work," she says.

She's on crutches, not entirely incapable. Yet again I wonder about our sickness levels and how our management style massages the figures up to unsustainable awfulness.

Basically, because our managers can't be arsed with the business of personnel management you're either in work and fit to carry bales of cotton all day every day and more besides or you're off sick. So, for instance, if someone had been off on long-term sick any other place, they'd arrange for a period of part-time work and rehabilitation as part of the coming-back-to-work process. We have our "I know you're trying to catch up with your work but can you just..." effort. Similarly, if a senior manager any place else broke her non-writing arm they'd be in work but not doing any lifting activity, or at least offered that option, not off sick for a few weeks. And then they chase people up because they've had a day off with food poisioning! I can't fathom it at all.

Pink belt in butterfly-wrestling

With Jim going at the end of this week and his work being taken over by Policy Team it's suddenly dawned on them that they've committed to an Autumn Staff Training & Development Day and he won't be around to do the arrangements. Somehow or other they've decided that Maybelle's going to do the job.

"How did you cop for that job?" I asked.

"I've no idea. Mary just said to me: 'I understand that you're arranging the training day.'"

It's going well so far: of the three emails she's sent asking what's going to be in the training day she's had the one answer, this one from Julia:

I don't think we need to go into details at this stage.

At least she could be bothered to answer!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


This sort of thing drives me barmy...

Betty's picked up a call from Maudie's 'phone. It's Julia wanting T.Aldous. Rather than waiting for Betty to get him she tells her:

"I won't hang on. Can you ask him to ring me on my mobile 'phone. I'm at Catty and need to speak to him in the next five minutes."

So far, so bad. Unfortunately it turns out that T.Aldous is gone.

"I didn't even see him go out," says Betty who's got plenty enough work to do without acting as Checkpoint Charlie. "What shall I do? I don't know her mobile 'phone number so I can't ring her to tell her he's not in."

"All you can do is make a note of the message and stick it on his door so that he'll see it when he comes back."

Oh no. This isn't all Betty can do. She spends the next ten minutes ringing round libraries trying to get hold of anyone who might know Julia's mobile 'phone number. In the end she gets hold of Doreen, who promises to ring Julia to let her know he's not in.

It's a good job Noreen's at home waiting for the gas man. She's got even less patience for this type of nonsense than I have. Unfortunately, this behaviour's been countenanced (and even encouraged) for so long that it's not worth the tears before bedtime involved in trying to challenge it.


Ken Barmy's been telling me about a Doctor Who event in one of his libraries. "More daleks than Doctor Zhivago!" he says.

We used to have a big dalek in the foyer at Grimley Library. It was useful for keeping the rough trade out of the library (staff would hide inside and say 'Ex-term-in-ate!'). I wonder whatever happened to that.

Adventures in communication

Where else could the draft communication strategy be a secret because nobody will make a decision about letting staff see it?

Get thee!

It's Sybil's fifty-oompth birthday today so she's sat at her desk dressed as a nun, like you do.

"Hey! This would be a good disguise when I get out through the tunnel!" she says.

"They'll stop you at the Swiss border 'cos they'll think you're a German paratrooper," says Frog.

I had to ask...

"How many boxes of book sale were there at Roadkill?" I ask Seth.

"Only forty," he replies.

"You could have fitted them in your car then."

"Yeah, right!"

Lowestoft offers the best skiing facilities in Suffolk

Epiphany Library re-opens tomorrow. I ask Thelma how things are going and she replies that the computers are working, touch wood, and she's got enough the stock on the shelves to look respectable despite the fact that she's had to do it nearly all by herself when she wasn't been called back to cover the enquiry desk at Helminthdale (Elmo was allowed out for an afternoon to help; what happens when Epiphany's open and they aren't available to cover for vacancies remains to be seen). I reckon they've done a bloody good job of it. She's a bit pissed off, though.

"All this time with no help whatsoever and then two carloads of people turn up unannounced and expect me to drop everything so that I can give them a tour of the premises. And do you know what the first thing Mary said to me was? 'You've not got any displays up.' Well, sorry, Mary, I thought that getting the place cleaned up and getting the stock out on the shelves was the first priority. If she's so worried about the displays she could have come over and lent a hand or something."

You can always count on Mary to put a damp flannel on any glimmerings of job satisfaction.


It's too often assumed that we have the memory of a goldfish. A case in point:

"We'll need you to help move some things over to Catty Library now that it's ready for us to move back in," says Julia.

"Not me," says Seth.

"I thought that you'd be doing it for us."

"Oh no."

"So you're not going to do it?"

"No. You'll have to make your own arrangements. When are you planning on re-opening anyway?"

"Mid October."

"Good. I'm on leave then."

Monday, September 08, 2008

How long have you been a kamikaze pilot?

Seth's going over to the old Roadkill Library to measure the shelves to see if they'll fit the new staff room at Catty Library. Problem number one being that he doesn't know how much space there is in the staff room at Catty. And T.Aldous and Julia, who have given him the job to do, don't know either. So he's going to Catty Library first.

"While you're going to Catty I'll come with you, there's something I need to check there," says Julia.

"Oh," adds T.Aldous, "while you're going to Roadkill could you bring some booksale back?"

"No," says Seth.

"You don't have to bring it all back."

"No. I'm only going in the car, there's no room for any boxes of book sale."

"If you take the trolley you could do it."

"If I take the trolley I'll have even less space. I'm not doing it."

"Well it needs to come back here. How's it getting here?"


"You could ask the van driver to pick it up," suggests Seth.

Coming soon to this embarassing technical hold-up

Lupin pops over from IT.

"I've a job note here saying that there's a printer to be installed."

"Is there?"

"It says here that it's still in the box and awaiting installation."

The only boxed-up printer I know of is the one that's been sitting in the toilets for the past fifteen months. I go to get it and it's gone.

"It might have gone to Epiphany with the rest of the old stuff," suggests Lupin.

"What old stuff? I thought we were getting new stuff."

"So did I but there seems to have been a bit of a communications failure somewhere along the line between Milton and the project managers. I've got the new PCs and I've set them up but I've set them up for your new booking system not the old one. But the new one's not ready yet."


"Nobody's told you this have they?"

"Let's pretend that they have and I just seeking confirmation."

"It's a bit of a muck up really. But I've got it all up and running on the old kit so they're ready for opening."

And so they are. So long as the hard drives in the staff PCs don't crash again.

I'm now hoping that Catty Library stays shut even longer than expected: all its newer equipment's now at Epiphany. If it opens any time soon staff and public will be sharing the one seven-year-old laptop.

The stained finger

Well that's a relief. Sort of. Apparently Milton had Seth take all the hardware off to the knacker's yard last week.

It would have been nice to have known about it.

All blind alleys lead to their door

Frog is hopping mad. He'd had an enquiry from a boy scout troop who wanted to bring some scouts into the library to have a look around and to look up some things on the internet. No problem, he suggested that they needed to book a few of the PCs to make sure they'd be available at the appropriate moment and he passed the query upstairs to the lending library. There were a couple of problems at that point so the library assistant took the details and told them that it would be sorted in readiness. She was finishing at lunchtime and so couldn't get the booking placed so she gave the details to Doreen and asked her to sort the necessary.

Doreen has passed the query back to Frog for him to sort out. He doesn't have access to the booking system so he's had to go upstairs to lending to do it.

Every other library in the borough is able to deal with its own customers directly. Why Helminthdale Central has to consistently pass them on to backstage staff to deal with is beyond me.

Hitch-hikers may be escaped convicts

Jim's looking too smug for words.

"Just one week now."

Lucky sod. His joy is only diminished by one thing:

"You know what they're going to do with my job, don't you?"

"My working assumption is that they're going to leave the vacancy to mature a few years like they always do."

"Oh no, it's better than that. They're not going to replace me. Policy Team reckon that between them they can cover all my work."

"Don't take the piss, it's not nice."

"It's true! It's true!"

And it is.

Team work: how to ensure that a colleague feels that his contribution has been valued.

Running like a rabbit or a frisky poodle

Bless. Bronwyn picked up a call from Maudie's 'phone. It turns out to be for T.Aldous (Maudie is on leave this week so T.Aldous has his 'phone redirected to an empty office). Bronwyn managed, eventually, to find a 'phone that T.Aldous hadn't redirected to Maudie's so that your man could take the call. Which consisted mostly of him saying: "just a minute" and running over to his office to get one or other piece of paper that he needed to refer to or to print out an email he needed to confirm with his caller.

Even a blind pig can find an acorn

When I went on leave the computer room was so full of bits of hardware that I couldn't safely walk in there. I've come in today and it's empty. Epiphany Library reopens later this week but we're getting new computers for in there so that can't account for the desolation. No notes anywhere to say what's happened so I'm at a loss to account for any of this equipment.


Yet another secret gig

Apparently it was Roadkill Library's official opening last week but you'd never know it from anything issued to staff by the Library Service. I found out because I bumped into a couple of pictures of the event on the network. My excuse is that I was on leave last week.

Surprisingly enough, Frog did know about it.

"I was just putting my coat on to go out for lunch when T.Aldous asked me if I was going to the buffet lunch at Roadkill."

The lights are going out all over Europe

Bugger. There goes the telephone exchange at the council's call centre. At this rate communications will be reduced to gaslit homing pigeons.

I suppose it's reassuring that where the library service leads the rest of the council follows.

When shadows fall

Back at the coalface and reality bites already. A complete electricity failure at Dutch Bend means that all the computers, light and land-line 'phones are out of order.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Lotus eaters

Staying with friends in the Fort Baxter area affords me the opportunity to take up The Major's invitation to have a look around the Sheboygan Library, Sauna & Wet Room. It is exactly as advertised: a palladian splendour with malachite urinals and rosewood handles to the birch twigs. The main lending library is a gobsmacker: it's so high that none of the walls quite reach the ceiling and there are shelves upon shelves upon shelves. They even have books on the shelves. I'm suitably impressed.

Repairing to the Major's place in downtown Australopithecine we sit on the porch sipping tea and sharing a chocolate hobnob (the local store sells them at a price slightly short of the cost of an Aston Martin). Lolling in the sunshine, watching the vultures circling overhead, I listen to the urgent threnody of miscellaneous Insecta in the shrubbery and the barking calls of the sambar and langur (or is that lumbar and Shergar?)
"By gad, Carruthers, it's not like the old place!"

"Nay lad," he replies, "who'd a thowt it?"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Now see, here comes Jumbo the elephant!

It's a funny old world.

This weekend I flew out to Fort Baxter to visit old friends. They, like me, are in the public library trade. So what do we do, in between wolfing down ginormous meals and roaming the vast hinterlands of the American dream?

We visit other people's libraries to see what ideas we can pinch. That's what library people do.

Yet another reason to thank God I never became a proctologist.