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.