Thursday, December 31, 2009
So let us consider 2009. We've had worse years. I, personally, have had much worse years. And other people have fared far, far worse than we. Even so, it will be nice to see the back of 2009. Or would be, if only we weren't dead sure that 2010 is going to be substantially worse, what with the budget crisis; the pay cuts; the vacancies freeze; the uncertainties about the management, or even ownership, of the service; and the unyielding promulgation of fresh hells from the body corporate. If it wasn't for the fact that the council's not accepting any more early retirements (on account of its reckoning that it can't afford to give people the necessary pay-offs) half its staff would be packing its bags right now. [Helminthdale Council still wants a substantial number of people to leave the payroll but doesn't want to pay for the wheels to be set in motion. A substantial amount of the 2010/11 budget may need to be going towards servicing defences against claims for constructive dismissal.]
Here in the Library Service it isn't business as usual. This, you would imagine, would be a good thing. Sadly not. We have been to too many funerals this year (one is too many to my mind, but we weren't that lucky) And otherwise, all is confusion. Or, if you're going to pick nits, all is even more confusion than usual.
The big news of the day is that T.Aldous has finally come out and said that he's retiring at the end of next month. We didn't think he'd be outlasting Mary by very long, and lo it comes to pass. In many ways this is a good thing: T.Aldous has been a diligent and hard-working chief but too often his hard work has been either counter-productive or else completely undermined by his irrational need not to be seen to be accountable for anything. The timing, typically of T.Aldous, is unfortunate. There is a lot going on corporately and regionally, not much of which will be to the advantage of either us or our customers. T.Aldous' departure adds a further element of uncertainty, which will be seized upon by somebody somewhere for their own ends. And we're still concerned about Policy Team's ability to up its game, even though we're seeing signs of their putting in the effort. Besides which, it's always useful to have T.Aldous there to act as the lightning rod in times of storm.
Next week, for the first time in years all of our libraries will actually be open. Except for Mattressbrook Library, which closed years ago but which we still supply with school holiday events for no apparent reason. That will be interesting. I wonder if we'll be able to keep the doors open for more than a week or two (yes, the staffing situation is that bad!) And if we do, I wonder if anyone will notice.
Ah well. Have a happy new year despite all else.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I receive an email from Ken Barmy. He is having fun at work.
"Arriving back at work after the festive hostilities I discovered that a key part of our library management system wasn't working and that once the effects had worked their way through the system nobody would be able to issue, return, or renew books and we couldn't add new borrowers, that sort of thing. Oh joy. Once I established what the problem was I sent everybody an email warning them to expect problems. Five minutes later, as I was trying to unpick the problem and get the system ready to accept a clean version of the file that had been corrupted, the 'phone calls started.
"'We're having problems with the system.'
"I explained to the first caller what the problem was. The second caller was somebody working at the next desk to the first on the lending library counter. The third caller was the person on the lending library enquiry desk. The fourth caller was another library. The fifth was the person who'd replaced the first person while they went to the loo. After the eighth 'phone call I sent another email telling everybody that there was a problem, it was a biggie, I was in the process of trying to sort it out, it would take time, they won't be able to do stuff because there was a problem.
"The 'phone calls continued. Mostly from the lending library. The only times I wasn't receiving 'phone calls was when I was talking to people in our IT section asking them for backup copies of files, or when I was talking to our system's support desk in the States. Not getting through to me, people starting ringing other people on my floor to tell them to tell me that they were having problems. And just to make sure, they also emailed me.
"I wrote a third, detailed, email telling everybody that there was a problem, this is what the problem is, this is what I've been trying to do in between your ringing me to tell me something I've already told you twice in emails and numerous times on the 'phone, etc. etc. etc.
"Five minutes later I received an email from somebody I'd already spoken to twice. They were having problems with the system and thought I would like to know.
"I resisted the temptation to reply: stap me vittles, I hadn't noticed any problems, you win a Crackerjack pencil for being such a perspicaceous young lady.
"Five minutes later I received another email from them. They had tried again but were still having problems. I steadied my nerves and ignored it.
"Two minutes later I got a 'phone call. Had I read the two emails? Yes, I had. Did I know that they were having problems? Yes, I told everybody they'd be having problems even before they happened and since then I've emailed everybody twice more and you've told me twice before when you've rung me up to say you're having problems on the system. That's all right then. Quite so. Goodbye.
"Three days on, still not sorted. Each day I send at least three emails to everybody, marked "Important: read this!" telling them that there are still problems with the system, what they can do in the mean time and that I will, as always, let them know just as soon as it's safe to go back to business as usual, and don't telephone me to tell me you're having problems with the system as I think I've noticed.
"And every day I receive emails from people who've been receiving these emails, and who've been ringing me up, saying: we're still having problems with the system.
"Johny Morris never had this trouble."
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
If Frog, our Children's Librarian, spends all day sat at his desk cutting out silhouettes of tadpoles this is counted as Work.
If Frog spends the morning visiting three nursery classes, telling the children stories and encouraging a love of books and reading his return is greeted with the words: "Where have you been all day? There's a lot of work needing doing."
"Well worth sitting in all those classes at library school," he observes.
We had rather hoped.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Aside from Catty's having opened and Carbootsale being very close to re-opening, once we find out what the 'phone number might be, nothing much has changed. Except the job cuts and the freeze on spending and the colleagues who've gone over the wire and...
Spoiler warning: The end of year review will be a bit on the bleak side this year.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Seth clears out the fridge before every big holiday period, which gives him the chance to chuck out the stuff that's starting to glow in the dark or which closes the fridge door after you.
This is always followed by the inevitable whines of: "where's my... I was saving that for later."
Almost as big a hoot as "Empower, Inform, Enrich," the government's utterly-vacuous policy document on public
Politicians live in an entirely different world to thee and me.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
"They've already sent me the training induction plan," she tells me.
"Training induction plan???" we cry in unison.
Such are myths and legends born.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
The Bobbing Up And Down Team unveiled their version today. We are all suitably overwhelmed and as excited as schoolgirls at a Tommy Steele gig.
The tone is set immediately in the promotional email, which features an intrepid explorer furthering the reaches of man's knowledge and fortitude. We're pretty sure that it's Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The front page of the intranet features a large picture of some bloke jumping out of an aeroplane. Let's be honest now: you wouldn't trust any of Helminthdale Council's equipment to see you across the road, let alone out of an aeroplane. A potentially-productive morning is wasted as staff scour the rest of the site for pictures of lemmings or the Hindenberg.
Highlight of the whole business is The Input Zone: Your Council, Your Forum. Staff are invited to offer suggestions and comments on "what we can do to make this the best council you could be working for."
The Imput Zone went live at 0830. By noon it has been airbrushed from history, as if it had never happened.
Imagine Noreen's delight on finding that the Reference Librarians have been slipping in orders for titles they didn't include in their standing order list. The copy of "Wilkinson's Directory of Public and Private Organisations" that arrived today accounts for three-quarters of a week's permitted expenditure in one fell swoop.
"People are always asking for it," say the Reference Librarians.
Noreen and Betty muttered something in a similar vein.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Oi've gotta girl,
A very nice girl,
Works in the library.
I say: "I love you" to her
And she says: "Shush!" to me.
Oi likes her looks
As she stamps my books
A new date every day.
And as we thusly
Bill and coo
My love will softly say:
"Hev yew got yer card, boy?
Hev yew got yer card?"
Stamps "due back first January"
And she's my little library gal.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The bad news is there's now some debate as to whether or not having the Millennium Bug as one of the angelic host is sacrilegious.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Sheep City's been taken over by the Leisure Trust and isn't fitting in very well. Unfortunately neither Henry nor Gaynor, who runs the visitor centre, speak or write the standard management bollocks required by the management of the Trust. And both blotted their copybooks badly in a recent meeting where a bunch of highly-paid jagoffs spent two hours in an orgy of self-congratulaton only for Henry and Gaynor to spoil it by asking:
"Well, yes... but what have we actually delivered?"
I'm not sure how much they have to worry. Of course, we always have to bear in mind the Helminthdle factor: if anything's as sure as Lord Ashcroft and taxes there's always the possibility that any senior manager may be a 24-carat dickhead. But it isn't necessarily a given. Bearing in mind that for the past four months the Leisure Trust has been having the kicking of its life in the letters pages of all the local papers while Sheep City is the darling of the media, the management of the Trust might have their hands full as it is without creating any new controversies.
We'll see how things go in the new year. Let's hope it's not as awful as what we're facing, what with the budget cuts, vacancies and business as usual.
A few years back, Frog lived on a main shopping street and was used to the usual stuff that happens when your front door's available to passing drunks. He'd often come downstairs to find that someone will have had a fit of guilty conscience and let go of the cutlery they'd stolen from the Italian restaurant by posting it through his letter box. Or chip papers. Or half a pizza...
One day he came downstairs to find a huge plank of wood. He sat on the stairs and stared at it for some time.
How in God's name did anybody post that through the letter box?
His wife came downstairs, looked at him, shook her head and said:
"You don't remember do you?"
He'd gone on the Christmas lash with his family and on the way home decided that they needed the wood for a new gate.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
"One of my workmates has a wife works for DWP.
"There was a bomb scare and the alarm went off. One guy grabbed a paper knife and ran round the office brandishing it shouting "They'll never take me alive, they'll never take me alive". After a full circle he says, "do you think we should leave now?"
"I'm not giving you ideas or anything........"
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The invoice came last week but T.Aldous won't pay it yet because it's not due to be paid until Christmas Eve. It actually doesn't matter a blind fig to us which day it's paid so long as it's out of this year's budget and we're not either slung out on the street or pursued by another lot of bailiffs but no, it can't be paid yet.
The Accounts Section want it paying p.d.q. as the council's performing badly at getting invoices paid quickly and there are financial penalties imposed by the government if targets aren't met. So once a day they ring Maisie and once a day Maisie tries to persuade T.Aldous to authorise the payment and once a day he says no, it's not due until Christmas Eve and once a day Maisie rings Accounts to say that she's hit a brick wall again.
To add insult to injury, T.Aldous has called a meeting later today to ask Jack Harry and Maisie why we're not paying our invoices on time.
In a pile on a chair in a side office with a note stuck on the inside date label of the top copy saying: "For the attention of Frog. Display?"
Unfortunately, nobody told Frog they were there and it was only by chance he found them. Doing our CSI bit (I take a lovely Marg Helgenberger) Frog and I reckon they've been there just over a week.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
A colleague in another section of the council had been instructed to attend a meeting today. He was told that it was A Very Important Meeting. And that he should Prepare For The Meeting Beforehand.
"It is about departmental matters,"
he was told. Which was good as he might have gone along thinking it was going to be about astronomy or something.
Seeing as it was going to be A Very Important Meeting, and that he should Prepare For The Meeting Beforehand, he asked for the agenda so that he could prepare for it.
"We have all been on a management leadership course and haven't had time to prepare an agenda."
There were twenty PowerPoint presentations.
"It would be a good idea if the Christmas opening hours were put on display in the library."
T.Aldous' response is a classic of the form.
"What an excellent idea. We have been doing this for thirty-five years."
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Maisie rings the shopping centre management to try and get something done.
"We're a bit concerned that it's a health and safety hazard."
"Oh, I shouldn't worry about that: the place is full of health and safety hazards."
We're trying our best to find this reassuring.
"Look after yours ELF this Christmas!"
it says. I was just about to ask her if I looked like the sort of person who seemed to need a bit of looking after, and was she available for the job, when it occurred to me that the age difference was nearer thirty than twenty years.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
"You're a bit keen, aren't you?" I ask.
"We're trying to get together a pile of photos for a branding exercise to get some inward investment into the borough. I've got to get pictures of happy smiling shopping people. You can't imagine how difficult that is. Still, third time lucky I guess."
"Not much luck?"
A flourish of the hand encompassed the street.
"Look at it. Lunchtime in the run up to Christmas."I wished him luck with his doomed exercise and made my way through the merry throng saying "How much?!" as they window-shopped the Help The Aged outlet.
"Surely, half-empty shopping streets filled with surly brutes is the Helminthdale brand?"
"That would be accurate, right enough. It would be nice to be aspirational."
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Looking at the menu, these turn out to be: chicken in a basket, cocktail sausages and sausage rolls on sticks.
"Oooh... Did you hear his hip click when he did that pelvic thrust?"
If it were down to me it would be shelved with the L.Ron Hubbards.
Monday, December 07, 2009
The really scary thing is that come an election he's got a vote, same as thee and me.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Regular readers (bless you both) will have noticed that I quite often have some harsh things to say about our managers. This is largely because there are times when I want to shake them until their eyeballs drop out and it's probably safer for me to vent my spleen in this blog instead. I haven't, by any means, given you the whole picture. No apologies for that: it's my blog I can do what I want, so there. But I should at this point make it quite clear that in some respects we're quite lucky to have the library service managers we have. For one thing, they're not stupid, nor evil. They're reasonably intelligent, well-meaning people who are hard-working and conscientious. It's not everybody who can say that. Unfortunately, being well-intentioned isn't always enough, the road to Hell and all that. And putting a lot of hard work into things that don't really matter, while neglecting things that do, isn't good business either. Their effectiveness, individually and collectively, is shot to bits the by way we do things here. And that, in turn, isn't helped at all by Helminthdale Council's conducting business rather in the manner of a Daffy Duck cartoon. But we don't help ourselves.
T.Aldous cops for a lot of the blame for things. Indeed, T.Aldous is the Universal Scapegoat. And to be fair, he is to blame for a lot of the way we go about things. If you're dealing with him there are a few things you need to bear in mind:
- Nearly everything that T.Aldous does is intended to make sure that if anything goes wrong it wasn't him as done it. Naturally phenomenally defensive by nature, it is a tragedy that he was manoeuvred into the post by Shagger Noakes, who then spent the next ten years giving T.Aldous every good reason to make sure that his back was armour-plated at all times. By the time the idiot Noakes was paid off by the council the instincts were so ingrained as to be inescapable. So we can't do anything that may make us accountable to anybody for having made a decision (I am quoting T.Aldous himself there). This is no way to run a whelk stall, but then if Shagger Noakes were running a whelk stall the thing would have gone bust well before there was any question of hiring any staff and the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place.
- T.Aldous has a nagging eye for detail. Which is great if you need to win a war of attrition with somebody particularly stubborn like the Human Resources Department, or downright rude like the Treasurer's Section. Unfortunately, it's not so great when you're a month past the deadline for delivering something and he's still obsessing as to whether or not that comma should be there on the invitation cards.
- There is no such thing as experience. Things happen. If we get away with it, we've got away with it and there's nothing to learn by it. If we don't get away with it it's because somebody else didn't do something and there's nothing to learn by it.
Having said that, T.Aldous is all too often a convenient reason for people not getting on with essential pieces of work. Quite a few times people have had conversations with him and discovered that the things they had been told for years are impossible because T.Aldous is stopping them happening are not only possible but, once he's found out they need doing, can be done within days or weeks.
It's convenient to refer to T.Aldous' lieutenants as Policy Team, which they call themselves, but one shouldn't take that as some sort of indication that they manage to work in any sense collectively. Far from it: while you can get quite a lot done by dealing with any one or two of them, the minute you need them to act or decide on things as a team you may as well jack it in and take your satchel home. They spectacularly don't work as a team and it baffles them as much as us to watch it happen.
Doreen and Julia are the Group Township Librarians, each responsible for the libraries in half of the Borough. They are both out of their depth, the difference being that Doreen realises it and has huge crises of confidence whereas Julia doesn't realise it and blithely steams through regardless of the consequences. Their positions aren't hopeless: if, at any time, determining the direction of our library service becomes any easier than pinning blancmange onto a buffalo then they have potential. It has to be said that Doreen is the better bet of the two, though. In many respects Julia is T.Aldous-lite, with many of his weaknesses and none of his political sensitivities. Doreen is remarkable for being the only member of Policy Team to realise that she is a personnel manager and that this involves a bit more than doing the weekly returns and the annual performance review.
Milton's the Reference, Information & Learning Manager and in some respects he's got the short straw. The good news is that Doreen and Julia line manage all the reference librarians, as staff of the establishment of the libraries they run. The bad news is that he doesn't line manage the reference librarians and so can't hold them to account when they don't deliver anything more than wet excuses (and too often not even them). The even worse news is that the poor beggar does line manage me. I've come to realise over the years that I'm a very difficult person to manage; I don't do it on purpose and I don't go out of my way to cause problems, but evidently I'm difficult. Milton, in turn, is a difficult person to be managed by. He's a genuinely nice bloke, very supportive, no end of ideas. Unfortunately, it's a bit like going for a walk with a golden labrador: you know where you'd intended going but you never seem to get there because you're spending half the time wondering where the hell he's run off this time. Every so often I have to hold my hand up and say: "yes, I know we could do all those things, and there's quite a few other things that would spin off from them, but what are we actually going to do?" To his credit, he'll take that off me (and nearly anybody else, too, for that matter) but not everybody would have the confidence to ask.
Jack Harry's very much the new boy. He's our Projects & Development Manager. I'm still trying to work out how he's doing. The good news is that he's happy to take responsibility for getting things done and taking any flak for it afterwards. The bad news is that he seriously underestimates the organisational problems with got, particularly with communication. And he's already got that hunted look about him that we all recognise from our looking in mirrors.
The situation's not hopeless, but we can't carry on the way that we are. Fingers crossed for the new year, I guess.
Friday, December 04, 2009
"For God's sake! You're not taking that manual home to read over the weekend."
"It'll be all right. It's a bit of light reading for me."
"No. You shouldn't take work home to do."
"Hark who's talking!"
"And which of us has had the nervous breakdown then?"
Needless to say, she still took the manual home with her. We're both of the same age, which means that any slight advantage in the argument I may have had in our youth has more than evaporated.
- The Reference Library keeps copies of "The Draper" for one month then puts lending date labels on them and ships them out to Pottersbury Road Library. Which literally doesn't have enough room for the stock, shelves or furniture it should have. Not since the school we pay the rent to stole a quarter of the floor space to make a new SureStart office. (We still pay the same rent, mind.)
- The Reference Library has a 1969 edition of "A Selection of the Coins of Rome from the Time of Trajan" on the open shelves.
- Fifteen year-old Ordnance Survey maps are being transferred from the Reference Library to Dutch Bend's lending library.
- There are four boxes of classical music cassettes under Mary's old desk, but on the shelves at Umpty Library according to the catalogue.
Sometimes it's as well to leave well alone.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
I'm reading a copy of "Les Inconnus dans la Maison" only because it was at the top of a pile of old Simenon paperbacks that we were debating whether to withdraw from stock.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
"I'll be decking him!" mutters Bronwyn.
So far this week she's done an author visit and two reading groups' Xmas parties; done reader support visits to two Social Care Learning Centres and to a homeless shelter; and unpicked the orders that can't be sent after T.Aldous took the money out of what was left of the book fund.
Arriving back from the shelter at lunchtime she was accosted by T.Aldous who berated her because the display window upstairs hadn't been updated since the beginning of November.
"We should have a Xmas display in there now!" he eventually mithered.
And so we should. Except:
- The display window's got nothing to do with Bronwyn.
- The Library Assistants who were planning on updating the window haven't had the chance because they've spent the past two weeks out of the building, providing cover for people who are no longer there.
We'll miss this if he ever goes.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Which is how we discovered that according to Google Maps the only places of interest in Helminthdale town centre are a knocking shop and a railway station that Doctor Beeching shut down.
This area's also used by Youth Workers so we've got some 'life skills' books for teenagers and young adults on the shelves just round the corner.
Luckily, the mother laughed when her child toddled up with a copy of "101 Things To Do With A Condom" and asked her to read him a story.