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

Friday, May 29, 2009

International man of mystery

Warner's on leave and his 'phone's through to Maudie because his secretary is off sick. A bit of an imposition but at least we know where he is and most people who need to contact him know he's on leave.

We think T.Aldous is on leave. We can't be sure because we have no proof, just hearsay evidence (he said something to the effect in passing to Alwyn, who mentioned it to Maudie).

We don't know how long he's apparently on leave so this is day two of "as far as we're aware he's back in tomorrow."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Awaiting an author visit by that nice Edgar Wallace

Milkbeck is one of those sleepy out-of-the-way places. Which could explain this morning's interaction with an elderly customer:
It's been a while since I've been to this library, I might not be a member
any more.

When did you last visit?

It were before the war.

We didn't like to ask which one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dear me! I wish I had a peanut!

The fax machine is broken. Mary's banging on about it to the Acq. Team:

"As soon as it's fixed you need to stop posting the orders and get them faxed through. It's an intolerable delay on our performance."

This is taken with a pinch of salt. Twice a day one or other of the Acq. Team goes into Mary's office to ask her to sign the orders so that they can be sent off. And twice a day she'll "do it in a minute." The orders can be piled up for a week before they get signed.


I'm trying to arrange a meeting with some colleagues from elsewhere. We all have our problems:

"We also have a new library opening on Thursday, so naturally everyone is running round like an idiot to get things ready, meaning that most folk will have to miss the tedious team meeting this afternoon. Management managed a great solution to this: move the team meeting to the new library and stop everyone working. "

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I gave it up for Lent and it never came back

What in God's name am I doing here?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Watch as I turn these twenty-four canaries into a nude statue of Moira Anderson

We've just had a presentation about one of the online encyclopedias we've bought into. Milton and I are discussing the potential when he says:

"They reckon that now that staff have seen this presentation they'll be OK for doing a programme of classes for the public starting in a couple of weeks."

"I take it 'they' include the people who still need to get other people to do their cutting and pasting for them despite having had a PC on their desk for over a decade?"

"Shall we talk about something else before we get wound up?"

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Alwyn's spent all morning chasing a pigeon out of the reserve shelf stacks. If we had one ounce of sense we'd have trained it to walk up and down past the visitor counter sensors.


Maudie's in the doghouse. T.Aldous wants to send somebody directions to the library.

"But he can't send the link to Multimap any more because it doesn't have the new roundabout on Penkage Lane on it. So I've got to find him some new directions. And all the sites I've tried don't have it either. So I checked with the AA and the RAC and they don't yet either. So all the directions are wrong. And it's all my fault, apparently.

"And the best of it is that his visitor's been here three times already."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Let's go and have tea in my chambers

Still no lights in the gent's lavatory. It makes life interesting. The Davy lamp that was in my old office has gone walkabout so we're still in the dark: we couldn't take in candles (ooh matron!) or, indeed, light our farts as this would trigger the over-sensitive fire alarm.

It wouldn't look good in the papers:


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's the point of being a gypsy if you can't eat a swan?

The Profession and I have issues but have largely come to a modus vivendi over the years. It knows my views and I know its views. Locally, The Profession variously sees me as ally, adversary, Somebody Who Is Helpful and Something To Be Feared, and sometimes All Of The Above. I don't go out of my way to be an irritant, it's just that I feel that "professional" is something you are, not something you call yourself. And I find many of the "paraprofessionals" (oh, fuck off!) to have a more professional attitude to the workplace than many "professionals."

This is not to say that I have any truck with the idea of running public libraries without librarians. You can do it but you lose out on an important suite of skill sets. Which isn't to say that qualified librarians uniquely have these skills, but an even half-good librarian is a major asset to a public library service. Unfortunately, a bad librarian has a disproportionate effect because they're probably going to be in a position to maximise the impact of their awfulness.

A correspondent writes:

"One of our impoverished branch libraries, has been on the critical list for sometime and would have closed in the last cull had it not been for local circumstances. Anyway they managed to increase their book issues in 2008/09 by 52%, which included an 80% increase in Children’s Fiction and a 90% increase in Children’s Non-Fiction.

"Our Head of Children’s bit has told the assistant who has done much to achieve this that she shouldn’t have done anything without asking her first!

"So library assistants have to ask permission to increase the issues in a particular branch! We have one very upset assistant. "

The management were furious: they were doing 'Oklahoma'

Session two of Junior Leadership. The content is sound but some of the back-vibe is a little disturbing. It's becoming apparent that whatever we the trainees think we're here for the trainers have their own agenda. Quite early on in the proceedings I decide that the best course of action, for now, is to pretend I've not noticed.

A morning's worth of progress became badly derailed as, in the middle of an exercise where we split into groups to identify and discuss strengths and weaknesses within the Library Service, a figure materialised at the back of the room, like the shopkeeper in Mister Benn.

It was T.Aldous.

A wave of tension ran through the room. Daisy Duck grabbed my arm and hissed:

"What the fuck is he doing here? Is he staying? If he's staying, I'm off!"

Similar mutterings could be heard from other tables. I had no more idea than Daisy as to what was going on. And I was even more puzzled when the rest of Policy Team materialised.

It turned out that they'd arrived to partake of the free lunch "to be supportive."

Monday, May 18, 2009


Frog and T.Aldous have been trying to get two Early Years Workers onto the permanent establishment. We took them on years ago as part of an early SureStart project and they've proved invaluable. There's money in the budget for it and the proposal's been sent to Human Resources a month before every deadline offered over the past two years (which is close to being unique for us).

It turns out that they've been part of the permanent establishment for the past three years and nobody in Human Reources bothered to tell anybody.

Friday, May 15, 2009

They can't all be Maurice Denham

A bunch of us have been sent on a "junior leadership" course as a nod to our moribund and petrified change process. Objectively it's nothing earth-shattering, in fact it's the sort of thing we were doing on a regular basis in a job I had twenty years ago, but it's a challengingly-different kettle of fish for most of the participants. Especially seeing how, as usual, none of us were prepared for the session beforehand by our line managers. A large part of this morning has involved the trainer trying to calm down fears of the unknown. I've found it a walk in the park, which is no credit to me; rather a reflection on the Library Service's lousy approach to staff training and development.

An illuminating piece of work involved our identifying character traits in ourselves and using these to settle into groups. I wasn't surprised to find myself sitting amongst reference librarians in the "Analysts" corner: a lot of the chafing between me and them is down to a conflict of similarities after all. Frog and Salome found themselves representing "Artistes" - extrovert performers who do things and think about them afterwards, if necessary. Nearly everyone else gathered in the "Sociable" corner - friendly, non-confrontational consensus-seekers. And there, sitting on her own, was Maybelle: the one and only "Driver" in the room.

"I'm Billy No-mates," she complained.

"Well," we explained, "if you will want to do things..."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Active referral

Eileen, one of our Reference Librarians, was asked to give one of her retired colleagues a ring to let them know the details about an event they've been invited to.

Imagine Maudie's delight to come back from lunch to find this note on her keyboard:

I have rung Daisy Hill and just got her answerphone. Please could you ring her and pass on the details.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


One of those overheard conversations you're happy not to be involved in. Noreen is ringing TSO...

"I know it's a silly question, but you've been sending our Reference Librarians a copy of The Daily List for years but this stopped a couple of weeks ago. Did we ever have a subscription with you for it?



"I don't know: it never went through our department and unfortunately the Reference Librarians don't know if they took one out themselves."

Curved like a scimitar it was

Bronwyn is calling back copies of a book about cowboys.

"It looks innocent enough," she says. "It isn't."

By Jove, no.

One's already out on loan at Pottersbury Road.

"Don't worry about it," says Hedi, "Mrs. Johnson won't mind. She's happy enough sitting and reading anything and she's old enough not to turn a hair these days."

When they all get back they're going to go into the Housebound Library Collection.

"My ladies like a bit of smut," says Lippy. "The dirtier the better."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It's Tuesday and the recycling bin's already too full to receive my handful of waste paper. In part this is because Kevin the van driver, as well as shipping round thousands of books, boxes of stationery, odd bits of furniture and the occasional librarian, is now also having to pick up each and every library's waste paper for bringing back here to fill up the recycling bin.

"I don't know why they don't just have this bloody thing go on a tour of the provinces,"

I mutter darkly as I kick the bin.

"Aaargh!" cries out the Acq. Team as one, "don't say it! Not even in jest!"

Apparently, some of our finest brains have already suggested this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Advice on mascara and all things undead

Swapping news with Ken Barmy he tells me that they've had a compulsory poll for the name of their council's corporate newsletter and that the announced result is "Staff Matter."

"The post-in vote for 'Pile Of Vacuous Shite' was obviously disqualified," he says.

Just slightly better than rubbish

I find it slightly unsettling that we have just the one copy of J.B.Priestley's "An Inspector Calls," in the reserve stock stacks. I find it scandalous that this one copy has half the front cover torn off and the whole of the bottom of the book both bashed and badly chewed. One of the girls upstairs practically begged a customer not to tell anyone it had come from here and sent in a panicky call for a new copy of the book to be procured.

Luckily, the customer doesn't mind waiting so the book's come down here to be removed from the catalogue. Which is how we got to see the message inscribed on the date label:

Damage on book noted January 2002

Bronwyn has moved "review the physical state of the reserve stock!!!!!" a couple of notches up the list of things that have been actively mismanaged for the past twenty years and need sorting.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Two Scotch eggs and a jar of Marmite

Eddie 2-Sox's posting on nocturnal thought processes reminded me that I've been meaning to illustrate one of the big problems I have at work: public library managers are not just incapable of linear thought, they feel they have to hunt and kill anything that may encourage it. Trying to map out a course of action (let's not get above ourselves and imagine it may be a plan) is like herding cats. Each of ours has their own strategem for lack of progress:

  1. T.Aldous' main weapon is persistence on an irrelevancy. Every time you feel you're starting to get somewhere you suddenly realise you're back at square 1¼, hovering uncertainly over the snakes and ladders board. I have seen him bring a half-million-pound project to its knees on the issue of whether or not "that needs to be a comma."

  2. Julia's strategem is T.Aldous Lite: everything always comes back to Why It Cannot Be Done.

  3. Doreen is generally willing but distracted by Why I'm Not Capable Of Doing It.

  4. Milton will baffle you with fog. If you need ideas, Milton's your man: he's an idea foundry. The problem is that he does not know when or where to stop and will keep steaming on long after the original purpose is a distant memory.

  5. And Mary... Mary will hop, skip and jump around all over the shop to her heart's content and you've got to hope that you can occasionally bring her back to the point of discussion. These are my notes of a discussion I thought we were going to have about last year's procurement statistics:

    • Lending stock additions

    • Bedfordshire in Spring (uh?)

    • Flower arranging

    • Daughter's wedding (again...)

    • Lending stock additions oh go on, you can do it, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease

    • Daughter's holiday

    • Hedge-laying!!!!!

    • Stock? Please!!!

    • Licorice

    In the end I just did what I thought the government was asking for an hoped for the best.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Forget the Family Allowance and concentrate

It makes me cross to read the ongoing trickle of details about MPs' fiddling their expenses. "Expenses are seen as compensation for not getting regular pay rises," say the people who inveigh against the iniquities of the public sector wage bill whilst voting themselves pensions we could but dream of. They bang on about market forces generating efficiencies but conveniently forget the fierce competition for their "underpaid" jobs.

I'm the sixth best-paid person in our Library Service and I'm (just) on the national average wage, or at least I am until the promised 12% pay cut comes into force. Like the rest of my colleagues here I pay for my own travelling to work costs; the equipment and comms costs that allow me to do so much work at home and the sundries for to let me teach myself how to do my job. Unlike the Tory MP who claimed back the cost of a bag of horse shit.

Talk about coals to Newcastle...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The sun will rise even if you don't happen to be there

The time has come, and it was a treat to watch. Eileen has noticed that some of the titles on standing order haven't appeared and has come down to ask Noreen what's going on. Noreen effected to be both confounded and baffled, explaining at length that all the standing orders had to be cancelled with the cessation of the last suppliers' contract and that she hadn't the authority to create new orders in their stead. Eileen's face was a picture.

"We're having a meeting next month to discuss standing orders," says Eileen.

"Oh, right. Well, once you've decided what you want we'll make a start at putting together the new standing orders," replies Noreen.

That last sentence is a model of the form.

Yesterdays to come

Frog was telling us about his teenage trials for the County basketball team and we were laughing derisively when he said:

"Being little as I was, they couldn't see me dribbling between their legs."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Not so dusty

Stap me vittles! The job adverts are out for Bronwyn's old job and Jim's job. Bronwyn's only been in post just over a year (after a few months' delay because Doreen was worried about leaving her post vacant) and Jim only left last summer. We don't know the reason for this unprecedented haste. Perhaps somebody's been told to start spending the staffing budget.

In this frenetic world...

We now enter month thirteen of our office move-around to help us work more efficiently. So far, Bronwyn, Frog, Sybil and I have moved our desks across the floor. And we've put a wheelie bin by the waste bin.

If our library managers had been running the Third Reich there wouldn't have been a Second World War. We'd still be waiting for them to march out of their front parlour.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


A surprisingly positive day: two set-pieces and three strategems all successfully and positively navigated with all honours equal, relief all round and the ghosts of somethings to see at the end of it.

The short-term impact, however, is a pile of work for me to get done at a deadly pace. I must be off my head.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I'm to be Queen of the May, mama! I'm to be Queen of the May!

The May Day Bank Holiday (always held on a Monday to make the point that it's got nothing to do with the rampant socialism of May Day) brings to mind Elsie Bradlow. Elsie used to work the reference library at Dutch Bend. She it was who had the self-imposed duty of covering all the important reference works with wallpaper dustjackets to protect the covers. This made life interesting for users of the library as none of the home-made jackets were labelled. Old hands could guess at some of them: Pears Cyclopedia is a completely different shape to Dod's Parliamentary Yearbook, for instance. Some examples baffled even them: is that this year's World Book Encyclopedia or The Cabmen of Huntingdonshire?

Uniquely, the Phone Book was labelled. In hand-written block capitals on the spine, the front cover and the back cover were the words "THIS IS IT!!!!"

Elsie was a keen member of the Dutch Bend Preservation Society until quite recently (I'm not sure if she rain out of steam or there was some type of fall out). The Preservation Society is what you would expect. I suspect most mean well, though some of their impacts are less than useful. Their main luminaries are the remnants of the old squirarchy and people who haven't yet come to terms with the loss of the old County Borough status and the 1974 incorporation into Helminthdale. I can understand the lack of enthusiasm about the feckless wonders of Helminthdale Town Hall but even a cursory glance through the local history of Dutch Bend would confirm that they're not behind the door with their fair share of useless heaps. And for a while Elsie was on the committee.

Thus it was that one bright winter morning Elsie decided that there was going to be a maypole. She took the idea to the next committee meeting and was met with a lukewarm response. So she told them that there was going to be a maypole. Each time she met one or other of them in a shop, or at a bus stop, or when they came in the library for their free photocopying that we're not supposed to have known about she told them that there was going to be a maypole. She told the public. She told the library staff. Repeatedly. And then again to be on the safe side. And so it came to pass that a maypole was procured and set in the Jubilee Gardens late in April.

Which was fine, except that there wasn't anyone available to dance round the maypole. It was too late for children to learn to be experts. So Elsie spent a couple of weeks trying to pressgang library staff into doing the business...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

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

An earlier bit of whimsy prompts a colleague to pass on this old favourite.


  1. When you wake up in the morning do you:

    1. Feel relaxed, comfortable and happy

    2. Feel tense, anxious and depressed

    3. Yes, that's right

  2. Do you look forward to your work?

    1. Yes

    2. No

    3. I'm a little teapot short and stout

  3. Can you spell "chrysanthemum?"

    1. Yes

    2. No

    3. Not telling

  4. How many pints does the human body hold?

    1. Between eight and ten

    2. Between ten and midnight

    3. Sheffield Wednesday

  5. What do you stand for?

    1. Liberty, fraternity and the other one

    2. The National Anthem

    3. To have a pee

  6. Which is the most important?

    1. A pragmatic approach to problem-solving

    2. A nice suit

    3. The ability to rest your paunch on the window sill

  7. Which political figure of the past do you most admire?

    1. Attila the Hun

    2. Benjamin Disraeli

    3. Muffin the Mule

  8. You are running 10% over budget; do you:

    1. Encourage everyone to identify savings

    2. Make a few random cuts to make up the money

    3. Open and equip a new office

  9. Is 2 x 10,000 greater than 5 x 4,000?

    1. Yes

    2. No

    3. Whose budget is it in?

  10. An attractive young woman joins your management team; do you give her:

    1. A copy of the agenda

    2. Your seat

    3. One


Mostly A's: You have the management and interpersonal skills needed to make things work. You should be running Helminthdale Council.

Mostly B's: You have many of the necessary skills. With training and experience you could run Helminthdale Council.

Mostly C's: You are ignorant and to say that you are as thick as two short planks is to insult some pretty good bits of wood. You probably do run Helminthdale Council.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Get fifty jellies and stick them in an album

There is no excuse for this overheard exchange between Maybelle and Seth:

"I'm just going to put my jugs in the cupboard."

"It's a good trick if you can do it."

A wet pig never gets nettle rash

The results of the poll have come in and I have to suspect that a majority of my readers have an understanding of our library management that can only be achieved by going native.

I asked: You're planning to build a new library. What's the most important priority?

You said:
  • Specifying public areas 0%
  • Specifying work areas 0%
  • Making sure there's enough shelving 0%
  • Consulting the right people 5%
  • Consulting the wrong people 10%
  • Having enough money to do the job 19%
And the winner by a head:
  • Getting the right font for the title on the specification 67%