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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You may find it useful to wind up a speech in your next temperance debate

Beryl's retirement day. She's thrilled to bits to be kicking the dust of this place from her feet. Doreen asks her the obvious question.

"Will you be coming back to do some volunteer work in the library?"

"Will I buggery!"

Two custard tarts, a sliced loaf and a tin of corned beef

We haven't been over-run by boxes of incoming new stock lately. If anyone asks we tell them it's because the Acq. Team are a well-oiled engine of accessionary zeal and then they go away. We don't tell them that it's a combination of some of the Assistant Librarians not putting in their orders; Mary not signing the orders; and the supplier suspending the orders for a fortnight due to some communication glitch.

This all puts the fear of God into the Acq. Team. They know all too well the thrill of drought-and-flood stock management. They also worry that some idiot will take this as a useful moment to do some time-and-motion studies of the team's throughput. Bronwyn's trying her best: she sorted out the supplier snafu and some of us have good reason to think she's doing a lot of unpaid overtime at home, ordering the stock the Assistant Librarians should have chosen. She's also actively asking front-line staff to submit wish-lists. The bad news is that she's having to do most of this surreptitiously so as not to give certain members of Policy Team the opportunity to put a stop to it.

We can all breathe a little easier today as sixty boxes of new stock have arrived. Well, all except Seth, who has to lug them all about and stack them in the fire exit corridor while they're waiting to be invoiced.

When you're up to the neck in hot water, be like the kettle and sing

Something's brewing: the Escape Committee has started singing "Mama Mia!" Very loudly.

God knows what the software engineer on the other end of my telephone made of it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ready for decanting

Maybelle is in Full Naval Figurehead mood.

"I am determined that they make some kind of binding decision about those battries so we can get that stuff out of the boxes and onto the shelves, available for the public."

I have mad unrealistics dreams, too. Some days I fantasise about being faster than a speeding bullet and leaping over buildings in one bound.

Topsy turvey talk

Fancy putting a health and safety noticeboard behind an inward-opening door in the staff room...


A colleague is dead browned off. He's in trouble because he's just bought three replacement PCs.

"I didn't fill in the Equal Opportunities Impact Form."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moon mist

We've been having a trying time of it with our betters and venting about it in the staff room.

"When you think about it..."


"If Policy Team aren't around, does it have any impact on the service we provide to the public?"

"Not a jot."

"This is true."

"And... They all bugger for the whole of March but we still get year end sorted. Every year."

"Not an a'porth of difference."

"So what's the point of Policy Team? Purely in terms of their impact on customer service?"

"They're the only ones authorised to sign the orders."

Friday, June 26, 2009

When I count three, go for your banjo

Frog's finished the schedule of summer holiday activities for kids and mapped it out against The Dreaded Summer Reading Game and sent everything off to the printers and to the lady who puts together the council's summer holidays magazine. There's no time for complacency as there's a humongous pile of other stuff to do, including catching up with sorting out all the problems about the delivery of BookStart boxes to health visitors and the glitch about the day nurseries. There is no administrative overhead to the BookStart programme. Except when T.Aldous or Mary have to spend ten minutes filling in a form with the data that Frog has to amass each week in between arranging van deliveries of materiel and then rearranging them because Mary's decided to save some money on the agency driver by not having them come in that day; or else T.Aldous and Julia have got him ferrying boxes of God Knows What between libraries; or bringing back boxes of old newspapers to put in our bin.

In the midst of all this Joy, T.Aldous brings customer feedback from the non-existant library at Mattressbrook.

"They say that they had a juggler come to the library last year, so why have you booked a juggler again this year? They're fed up with jugglers and want a change."

They're getting a juggler because he's cheap and Frog's budget for delivering two months' worth of events over a couple of dozen locations is the same as it was in 1993.


Mary should have been working the first three days this week and having Thursday and today off. On Wednesday morning she rang in first thing and said that she was having that day off. Fair enough, sort of (we'd get a bollocking for it, mind).

Frog was getting on with some work for the summer holiday activities when Mary came over to him and said:

"Frog, I want to have a quick meeting with you and Bronwyn to see where we're up to with things."

"I thought you were on leave today?"

"I had Wednesday off so I thought I'd come in today

I can see us having fun with Mary's diary this summer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Another day, another leaking roof, with water pouring down the walls again in Roadkill Library (one of our new builds). Maisie is relieved that this is a shared building and not our responsibility, we're just paying lodgers.


Milkbeck Library needs a lick of anti-vandalism paint on a drainpipe to stop kids playing on the flat roof next door. Maisie tries to report this to the new building services service. It gets no better:
"They say it won't be this week as 'the bloke what goes up ladders is on leave.'"


Enthusiastic young member of staff:
"I've managed to get Scaryworld to give us two free admission tickets as prizes for the summer competition."

Senior member of staff pretending to leadership:
"We usually ask the Parks Department for some Grazy Golf tickets."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


There's probably a good reason why the Reference Librarians have transferred copies of a 2003 Careers Directory into Lending Library stock.

I can't see it myself, though.

Amongst the milk bottles

I arrive at Spadespit Library.

One of the library assistants is sitting by the front door singing "Postman Pat" through the letterbox.

I have an uneasy feeling that this is officially sanctioned.

I move swiftly on.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I came here to read the unicorn's posterior and somebody stole me ladder

How to make your staff feel good about having gone away for a couple of days' training and earning a useful certificate of prowess.

Sybil's been and gone and completed a course. It's been the work of years: the course itself took three days but it took Policy Team fifteen years to move from "somebody should take this course" to "somebody will take this course," then another two to get to "please could we have volunteers to take this course" and six months to "the volunteer will go on this course." Unfortunately, the first senior manager she sees on her return is Mary.

"Hello Sybil. How was your course?"

"Really good, I really enjoyed it. There are a few things I need to do to follow things up. Do I need to talk to you or T.Aldous?"

"Oh, there's no need to do anything with it."

Millions of years of human evolution went into this

email from Catty Library:


Printing isn't behaving itself. Sometimes it prints and sometimes it doesn't.

Thought you might want to know.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Paperchase II

Regular readers (care of Dobbiroids Horse Rejuvenators) will recall that we're now transporting all the waste paper from the far reaches of the empire back here for us to put into our one, single waste paper recycling bin. Maisie takes a call from Gypsy Lane.

"I've been away a few days and I've come back to find that somebody's been actively collecting newspapers to be sent down to Helminthdale Library for recycling. There's a big pile of the things. I know it's a major pain but is it OK for me to send them in on the van?"

"Hide them in a box and send it here marked for my attention," advises Maisie. "I'll sort it out when it arrives."

Every so often I have to go upstairs and look at the bookshelves just to remind myself we're providing a library service.

Planning ahead

Mary is now officially of pensionable age and has a bus pass to prove it. For the past year she's been dropping hints that she'd be jumping ship when the time came. And she has, indeed, been pretty semi-detached for the past eighteen months. A couple of weeks ago she finally announced that she would be retiring in a couple of months' time.

Frog's currently bogged down with preparations for the summer holidays including the dreaded Summer Reading Game (the game's a great idea but the administration overhead's always a ball-acher and there's always some issue about the accompanying web site). As a jolly add-on he's also having to prep an event this autumn for promoting one of The Reading Agency's programmes (I've lost track: I don't know if this is Book You, Book Off, Booked Up or Book This For A Game Of Soldiers). Mary, as is her wont, started wittering about this when she was holding court in the staff room.
"I don't know why you're worrying about it Mary," said Noreen. "It's not like you'll be here for it so you can wash your hands of it all."

"What do you mean?" asked Mary.

"Well, you'll have retired by then."

"Who said I'd have retired by then?" yelled Mary indignantly.

"You did. The other week."

"I may stay on until well past Christmas," stated Mary, sailing off in High Dudgeon (sulking for the use of).

Friday, June 19, 2009


I made the mistake of asking a colleague how a new library build is going on.

"Before we can do anything a power cable and telegraph pole have to be moved. Npower say they can't dig the hole to move the cable as if they do the telegraph pole will fall over, BT say they can't dig their hole to move the pole for fear of digging into the power cable! "

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I like bananas (because they have no bones)

Things can't be so bad when I get an email from a Branch Manager asking: "what are we doing for Love A Melon Day?"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I used to breed tortoises but this place is so small it was three to a shell

I'm swapping performance target stories with a colleague.
"We are ploughing through e-PLUS survey results to see if we did anything right. Putting new PCs in just before we did the customer satisfaction survey might have helped. "

Monday, June 15, 2009

The man who stopped bacon from stretching

A colleague despairs:

They were having problems with the 3G laptop on the mobile library, so they went into the nearest library to ring. Having had it pointed out that it would be much easier if we had laptop and phone in same place I got the return call.

The essence of this was that they could ring me, or use the laptop, but not both as both mobile phone and laptop had flat batteries and there was only one working power socket on the mobile.

"Well can you take the laptop into the library and plug it in there."
"But then I won't be able to reach the phone."
"Use the phone in the library."

I give up!

Delilah tests her scissors before cutting Samson's hair

Just trying to distract myself from listening to:
  • an interminable debate about the thickness of clock cards;
  • the desk that has "the wrong drawers" (i.e. the set of drawers that it's always had, not the set of draws that somebody who drew up a floor plan decided that they would have when the time came to move the desk but didn't do anything about getting);
  • whether or not anybody's walking past a postbox;
  • and the case of the disappearing printers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

X-ray vision

A correspondent writes:

"Banzai Library was supposed to have moved into a joint new build community centre five years ago, but the developers seem unable to hand over the keys to the Community Association, who say the inside isn't finished. No one is sure how they know the inside isn't finished as the developers won't let them have the keys to go and look! "

Friday, June 12, 2009

Left on the line

Maisie can't report any buildings repair requests today. They're only accepting calls from Network Rail today.

That would explain today's morning commute.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are you doing anything in the nude now, Mr. Van Dauber?

For all its modern pretentions, Helminthdale is just an old-fashioned village at heart. One time, in another life, I tested this by starting a salacious piece of gossip about myself in a distant part of the Empire. I was working in the Town Hall at the time and it took all of two days for the gossip to get back to me via the usual channels. The Library Service's bush telegraph is a bit more sporadic due to our peculiar suite of opening hours: start the rumour on a Monday or Thursday and it does the circuit in about eighteen hours; Wednesdays or Fridays it's about thirty. Of course, there's no quality control to any of this, which is usually part of the fun. Sometimes you get a bit of a shock.

"Are you having an affair with ...?" I was asked the other day.

"Not that I know of. Should I be?"

"I said that you probably weren't. It's just that you're seeing a lot of each other lately."

"Well, we are working on the same pieces of work at the moment..."

Me, I don't care. That sort of nonsense just adds to the mystery after all. Sometimes people get a bit put out about it. Today a colleague told me:

"I've just been asked if I'm pregnant."

"I thought you'd lost weight," I replied (I know a minefield when I'm skirting one!)

"I have. They wanted to know when I started maternity leave."

"What triggered that? What have you been up to lately?"

"My sister's just started a midwifery course so I borrowed a pile of books on pregnancy so she could have a look at the type of thing her patients would be reading up on."

"Do you want me to start a rumour that you are pregnant?"

"Don't you dare!"

"Don't be too hasty. Don't you fancy a few months' leave on half pay?"

I'll spare you the response. We employ ladies of letters. Most of which are F.

And Lassie crapped all over his shoes

We enter month fourteen in The Big Brother house and they're still rearranging the furniture...

T.Aldous has noticed that Lola and Salome have cleared one of the Assistant Librarians' desks so that a PC can be moved onto it, thus freeing up a desk that can be moved someplace somewhere sometime.

"Why was I not told that you were moving things around?
Next time you move anything I need to know about it first."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I told them this was an audition

We start the presentation with a winsome cantata by a collection of toothless moppets...

I'm only a reference librarian
Exemplar of all of the breed.
I spend most the day
Quietly hiding away

Anything you could happen to need.
The laws of the Medes and the Persians
Are current in our library.
What may make you wince
We've not weeded since
That flooding in 1903.

As a counterpoint, let us welcome an academic in his new Madison Avenue suit.

Library! Oh library!
We do stuff and it's mostly free.
And I think the best of the lot
Is our ref library.
Don't you? Course you do. You know you do.

And if there's one thing that prompts us to hug ourselves
Is the treasure of knowledge upon our shelves....

Oh, I idle with glee in my ref. library
With my pamphlets on getting flints to spark;
An exam set or two from nineteen eighty-two;
And how to spot Stukas in the dark;
Volunteer work amongst teak trees in Sarawak;
How to pay Window Tax should it ever come back;
Those tunes we may hum
In nineteen thirty-one.
It's all there in my reference library.

Dee dee dee, la de dee dee dee
Dee dee dee, lad de dee....

Sets of Yellow Pages transcending the ages
To which we'll refer all your needs
For a butcher or baker or candlestickmaker
In two thousand and three in a suburb of Leeds.
You'll wonder you'd not asked us sooner
For tide tables for Tristan da Cuhna.

Oh, there's so much to see in our ref. library
And they lay out the stock with such care.
Not Dewey, you'll see, let alone LCC
But the length of the complier's mate's hair.
If you need something current then baby you're out of luck.
It won't be in stock 'cos it isn't a trophy book.
We polish with pride the now-fossilised hide
Of our reference library,

It's oh, so, so merry,
To browse in our reference library.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Not from B&Q then?

This new repairs reporting process is brilliant. Maisie's had a morningful of it. The latest is reporting some work to be done at Dutch Bend.

"We need a door to be repaired at Dutch Bend Library....
...Yes, Dutch Bend Library. A door. We need the padlock to be removed and the door made good....
...a padlock...
...and the door made good...
...they're not open on Wednesdays, so if the job can't be done today it'll have to be on Thursday...
...if they ask at the counter the staff will show them which door it is...
...well, it's the door to a room that's not in use any more so we just need the padlock taking off and the door made good...
...yes, they're closed Wednesdays...
...No. It's a door. We need the padlock taking off and the door made good..."

When she finished her call she looked up at me.

"How often did I say that we needed a padlock taking off the door and the door making good? Do you know what he asked me? 'Is this window on the inside or outside of the building?'"


Since last Wednesday T.Aldous has been wittering on about a "Mind your head" sign for Umpty Library. We must be due a health and safety inspection.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Don't complain if you find something floating in your soup: it could be Esther Williams

A colleague writes:

"I'm used to our spending good money on rubbish for our Reference Library but they sometimes surprise even me. I was talking to one of our Bibs. Team when they said: 'have you seen this?'

"It was a new reference book. A set of navigation tables. Page after page of tables for them as need to navigate the briny sea by nothing more than the stars and a sexton. And no guide as to how to use them. And a handy fall-out-and-lose bit of paper listing the locations of the key astronomical points of reference used in the tables.

"It's a comfort to know that should anybody find themselves lost without their sat-nav on the M62 they can come into our reference library and find out precisely where they are."

And a postscript:

"I tell a lie: we don't have a set of navigation tables. We have two sets of navigation tables."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Leaves on the line

We have a new corporate procedure for reporting building repair requests. In order to save money, instead of ringing somebody up in the Town Hall to report a problem we now have to ring an 0845 number and talk to somebody in a call centre somewhere up north. Because the process is automated in part there is a few minutes' (being paid-for) delay before getting to the call centre operative and then quite a lot longer working their way through a set form before finally getting to the bit where they ask what the problem is.

The implementation of the new procedure was phased. Phase one was the doing of it. Phase two was not telling anybody about it. Phase three was people ringing the old number on Monday and being told they had to ring the new number. Phase four was service managers finding out that they're now being charged to report building problems.

The return to rainy weather has brought a few new leaky roofs to our attention and this, together with the half-term holiday vandalisms, has kept Maisie busy on the 'phone to the call centre. This morning was the capper. She'd reported the problem, or so she thought, when the operator said:

"I've taken down all the details. I can't give you a log
number for this call because I'm not on the repairs system."

"You're not on the repairs system?"

"I'm just covering calls while the person you should be
talking to has gone to the loo. I'm really Network Rail."

Thursday, June 04, 2009


I don't hold with The National Lottery: I reckon it's a tax on the gullible and optimistic. Still, with everybody's pension being under threat the Lottery syndicates within the Library Service are working overtime. Additional to this is The Bookies' Friend: a bunch of folk who gather round the racing pink every morning to come up with a list of the most stupid names that can be persuaded to form a sort of narrative when read out loud. Oddly enough, their finances are looking rosier than those of any of our high street banks.

Frog acts as their runner, so it was that we popped into Honest Joe's on the way out to lunch. As we left the place he said to me:

"You do realise that you've bought a ticket for the Irish Lottery."

And so I had. I do hope I win a pig.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

After crossing the mattress I decided to burn my socks

Come back to my desk to find a note from Sybil:

Reference Library rang. They've got an irate customer who wants to know why she couldn't get onto a web site. They don't know which web site it is but it's something to do with Ireland.

She's coming back in an hour.

That narrows the field down a bit.

An hour later, sure enough, the Reference Library rings again to find out why she can't get on. Eventually they give me the URL. It isn't a valid URL. Which is why she can't get on...

I Google the information I can guess from the "URL" and find a site that sounds like the one they're banging on about. I email the Reference Library the link, asking that they try that and see if it works.

"The lady is very annoyed that it was blocked and wants to know what you're doing about it."

"The URL was invalid. I've sent you a link to the site. Give her that URL and she should get on OK."

Five minutes later I get another 'phone call from the Reference Library.

"The customer is irate because she is still being blocked. She wants to know what we're doing about it."

"Can I just check which URL she's trying?"

This time it's a different one again.

"OK... well when I try that I get a message to say that that page will not load. That will have been misinterpreted by the public clients as a block."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing. If that page won't load it's out of our control."

"But we've got it on our staff PC here."

"With that URL?"

"We searched for it on Google and got the site."

"Does it have the same URL?"

"It seems to be working alright."

"What happens if you type the URL you just gave me in the address bar and press 'Go'?"

"We don't need to: it came up when we searched for it on Google."

"What happens if the customer searches for it on Google the same way as you did?"

"If she types in that address she gets a message to say it's blocked. She's very irate."

"Is she typing that address into Google?"

"We searched for the site on Google and got it."

"What happens if you enter the URL you just gave me."

"We found the site on Google."


I swear on all that's holy that this is a precis of the conversation.

If this is how they handle a referral to an in-house 'expert,' what on earth happens when they pass enquiries on to external agencies like The Small Business Unit across the road?

Come to think of it, that would explain much about the local economy.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The British genius for creating the dismal

Bronwyn's scored a triumph. We have an American writer of gritty, edgy novels coming over the pond to do a talk at one of our libraries. Mary thinks it would be a good idea to present him with a gift and, playing on the stereotype that Americans are suckers for a bit of Olde England, she rings Henry to see if anything suitable may be available from Sheep City. Especially if it's free. Henry wasn't in at the time but rang back later.

"I have a lovely picture of the late Councillor Audrey Mottisbury that he could have. It's in a really good frame, too, with gilding and everything."
Mary isn't sure whether or not he's taking the piss so Bronwyn's going to nip over tomorrow to pick up the promised nosegay (Mary doesn't want to hurt Henry's feelings if he's being serious).
"I'm not sure that this picture's the thing," says Mary. "What could he take back from Helminthdale that would make it a memorable visit?"
"Ringworm?" I suggest, too loudly.

Bronwyn suggests that we could use the picture as a competition prize. Perhaps even for this month's Science Fiction Book Review Competition.
"We could say it was a scene from a really old series of Doctor Who."

Monday, June 01, 2009

I would not have called had I remembered it was Monday

I took this telephone call:
"Good morning, Helminthdale Library, Kevin Musgrove
speaking. How can I help you?"

"Were you the person I was speaking to just

"Err... Who were you speaking to just now?"

"The lady on the desk in the library."

Little-known facts that nobody cares about

In conversation with Milton about divers issues I opined that I didn't think we have a reference and information service. We have a lot of trophy titles on the shelves, and useful reference books kept well out of the reach of the public, but we don't have a reference and information service. We have people trained in reference and enquiry work who don't want to have anything to do with the public and people who are happy to deal with the public untrained in reference and enquiry work.

I can think of no more exciting time to be a reference librarian than the past decade. The number of reference librarians who have actually walked up to the plate and delivered can be counted on the fingers of your foot. (By all means point me to some examples of good practice. I'm in the market for a ray of sunshine.)