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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering the empties

It's that time of the year when we get all maudlin and restrospectacle and I really can't be arsed. I'll be mostly glad to see the back of 2010, even though I'm staring at 2011 in largely dry-mouthed terror. Whatever else this year to come will be it is going to be a ride.

Hope you all have a happy New Year. Look after yourselves and keep safe.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back to Skool (chiz, chiz)

I'm still unseasonably cheerful. So much so that a Tribune of the Plebs is moved to approach my desk.

"You're very cheerful again today, Kevin."

"I am. I don't know what's up, it doesn't feel right at Christmas."

"Please could you pack it in? You're frightening the staff."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Qwismas Kwiz results

I've linked up the answers to The Qwismas Kwiz so you can see that you all did very well and everyone gets prizes (we'll have no crying into your lucky bags here!)

And what do you get?

Your own, your very own "Hooray For Helminthdale" calendar for the probably-forthcoming year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Qwismas Kwiz

To keep you out of mischief while the selection boxes settle.

Here are some titles from 2005/6, what do you think the story was?
  1. Patience, fleas, the night is young

  2. All of a sudden nothing happens

  3. Graph spree

  4. JCBs in the Meadow of Consolation

  5. Like two rubber ducks that pass each other in the bath
    • There is nothing so swift as a manager avoiding their workforce
    • Leadership is a foolish consistency
    • It's usually a good idea to count the wheels on the mobile library before going out

  6. Laughing their hods off
    • Builders prop up a door lintel with fag packets
    • Having to count the bricks in the fire escape corridor
    • A caretakers' revolt

  7. Talk to the wall because the email's not listening

  8. We've a little tiny crocodile that sings like Bing

  9. Triple negatives

  10. A kick up the arts

  11. Rumour in cuneiform

  12. Florence Nightingale should live this day

  13. Three thousand burning joss sticks sing "Happy Birthday" to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands
    • The Summer Reading Game
    • Stock editing
    • An Audit Commission inspection

  14. When Alexander the Great was my age he'd been dead twelve years

  15. A mayfly dreams of eternity
    • Ordering new PCs
    • Installing the new book ordering system
    • Finding out which days the libraries will be closed over Xmas

  16. Detail of Painting by An Unknown Artist Depicting Unconditional Surrender at the Battle of Helminthdale

  17. The Order of the Lack of Vivid Imagination
    • Library management
    • Human Resources
    • The Department of Culture, Media and Sport

  18. A sailor's farewell to his horse

  19. The equipment has the best tunes

  20. Big Brother is up your nose
    • email monitoring
    • New identity badges
    • CCTV

  21. Crouching tiger, springing limpet

  22. Chimps off the old block

  23. Just like my socks, they are neglected

If you get stuck you can find the answers by searching for the titles. Good luck. And lots of cheating!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yule stuff

What's said and done on Christmas Eve stays in Christmas Eve. (Especially that!)

I hope all of you have a good Christmas. Take care of you and yours and come back tomorrow for the Christmas Quiz.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mine smelt of musty hymn books

Frog's explaining why he isn't ginger. Sibyl pipes up:

"I used to be strawberry blonde. Collar matched cuffs too. They don't now, not unless I spend a bit more time at the hairdressers."

It was a conversation involving Daleks and turkey butties.

This has been the most lucid staff room conversation I've heard lately. It's been a peculiar couple of days.

Dial F for Murder

Frog is unimpressed.

He's just gone looking for a book that appeared to have gone missing in the children's library. In the end he found it shelved with the authors beginning with E.

The book was Aesop's Fables.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ovaltine was a blessing

Half the staff are just getting over the lurgi and the other half are knee-deep in cough drops. Even Lucy, who takes stoicism and self-denial to extreme lengths, has had to admit defeat and go home to a hot bath and industrial strength Covonia.

The effect on public service goes further than our struggling to staff the counters and presenting the service as a collection of red-cheeked shivering wrecks. A customer came into Gypsy Lane Library this afternoon and put her scarf and gloves right back on.

"Eee... It's cowd in here!" she said.

"Is it?" asked Pansy.

Pansy's been running such a high temperature that she hadn't realised that the heating had tripped off at half ten this morning.


Disappointing to need to challenge the word 'Yid' in the workplace. :(

Monday, December 20, 2010

All the wood you can eat

Posy's had to persuade an overly-amorous couple to cease and desist in the lending library.

"In the end I had to show them a medical dictionary."

Marvellous experiences in Cork and quite a lot of fun in foam rubber

One of the big problems we have with our staff is their lack of confidence in their own abilities. This is due, in no small part, to the Library Service's policy on personal and professional development: "know your place and stick to it." (Obviously, this is an elaboration of a much more concise policy document.) Today's case in point is Alice, who's worrying about a course she's doing. She's fretting about the bit dealing with decision-making skills.

"I'm going to fail that," she says.

"Bollocks," says I.

"I can't make a decision to save my life!"


"I can't."

"Of course you can. Just think of all that crap that was going on the other day. You sorted that out. You couldn't have done that if you aren't able to make decisions."

"Yeah, but I nearly chinned someone."

"You didn't, though, did you?"

"I nearly did."

"Well... It would have been a decision."

"Yeah, but a really crap one."

"So... Having established that you can evaluate a decision, find it lacking and decide to do something else...?"

"I hate you."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Festooned with apathy

I suppose a quick update is called for. It's been a busy couple of weeks, most of the details of which escape me (by design, not accident: they were that sort of detail).

  • Salome and Doreen have engineered escapes out of Helminthdale by the cunning wheeze of looking in the small ads in the Library Association Record (incorporating Whizzer and Chips).
  • Salome's job is to be done, temporarily at least, by Thelma, with Thelma's job being done by Marie and Marie's job being done by whoever's seen to have some time on their hands at any given moment. (You'll notice that we aren't recruiting new people.)
  • Doreen's job is to be divvied up between Julia, Jack Harry and Milton, with bits going to Maybelle or Bella or Thelma or Posy or Lola, depending on the wind direction on the day.
Virtually every partner organisation that we deal with is either being wound up, cut to the bone or has been told that some time next summer there will be a decision to either wind up or cut to the bone. The only reason that we don't know for sure if/how we are going to be cut any further than we already know of is the council's stated objective not to close any libraries under any circumstances whatever. This should be an unalloyed joy but we know that this support hasn't ever extended to giving us the wherewithall to staff them properly so all bets are off as to what this actually will mean in practice.

Happy days...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is your horse red in the fetlocks?

A missive or epistle from J.Arthur Blenkenstein, our esteemed Chief Executive. He thanks the poor huddled masses for their sterling work and cheery fizzogs and tells us the latest on the state of the local economy now that your man Pickles has wielded the axe. The good news is that the council's finances really are up shit creek and they're not just saying it.

The bad news is Executive Directorate have put together a Strategy For Growth.

The rest of this afternoon looks set for a discussion on the manner of tumours, hairy moles and sundry polyps.

That's three she's had since Lenny had his tonsils out

"I don't know what we'd do in this place without Tommy Handley and ITMA," says Sybil.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jingle bell rock

The fifth of our libraries' Christmas parties is now in full flow and looks like it's going to be as good a do as the others so far. Which is nice as they've all been heaving with bodies, pop and cake and have managed to raise serious amounts of money for charity by auctioning teddy bears and playing games of pin the tail on the local councillor.

To further enhance the Yuletide cheer, the annual prolonged Christmas slugfest at Windscape Library has been very low key and hasn't dragged in many innocent parties. Goodwill to all ladies of a certain age.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A graceful old single-masted ironing board

"How's the new boyfriend," I ask Sami.

"I think I might have broken him," she replies.

I daren't ask, she'd only tell me.

More kicks than ha'pence

You have to wonder at the cloistered existence of some of our librarians...

News emerges of the council-by-council grant settlement for next year. It turns out that that nice Mr. Pickles has given us a nice Christmas present of a big cut in funding (or as reelmolesworth tweets: "sontaran general eric PICKLES xecute stage 1 of invasion by cuting local govt. funding to all humans who have temerite to vote LABOUR") Essentially, urban provincial councils and Labour-controlled London boroughs get a ginormous cut in funding while some leafy shire councils actually get an increase.

"I don't understand how they can do that," says Jack Harry, literally baffled.

Noreen looks at him as if he's just arrived from the Planet Zog. Neither she nor I can understand how he doesn't know that they can, they do and they will.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Look at me! I'm in tatters!

These days I seem to be spending my time censoring or spiking entries to this blog. The stuff that would get me into really deep shit isn't the politics - large or small P. It's colleagues' behaviour. In times of stress people do irrational things. That's understandable and even when it's deeply, deeply irritating it's pardonable. Some behaviours aren't pardonable and it would be quite nice if they were to be put back in the box so that we could concentrate on trying to survive the next few months with the least possible casualties (ideally, none at all but that's looking increasingly unlikely).

It will not grow outside the lab unless it is deliberately injected or sprayed into a goat


A customer comes in to Helminthdale Central Library. It's Posy's turn to be on the reception desk.

"Good afternoon, can I help you?" asks Posy.

"Are you new here?" asks the customer.

"No, I've been working here more than a year now."

"Is that right? I wouldn't have thought: they're not big on smiling in here."

Friday, December 10, 2010

It looks like a foggy day in Barnsley

The council's PC Support Team is made up of Jim, Young Jim and Very Young Jim. Oh, and Barry. It's been a while since I've seen Very Young Jim. He's just been in to sort out a problem with the public PCs in the reference library.

It's dispiriting to see that Very Young Jim is going grey.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Never use a mobile phone while you're peeing

As part of our ongoing commitment to the healthy living agenda we're stocking a lot more information about Men's Health Issues. You know what I mean: Men's. Health. Issues. Quite so. In particular, we're stocking a few monthly magazines that explore the issues concerned in the discrete and unsensational manner fitting for The Stoic Northern English Gentleman that they can use for easy reference in the reading room upstairs in Helminthdale Central Library.

All they have to do is know that we stock them, go to the enquiry desk, ask for a copy of one of the magazines; sign a receipt; read the magazine; go back to the enquiry desk; return the magazine and receive the cancelled receipt as a receipt of return.

To read a magazine in the reading room.

"We've had people steal magazines before now," explains Eileen.

Scottish oak-smoked gravy granules

Some of you have asked about Helminthdale's Christmas light.

Let's remind ourself of its grandeur.

Xmas lights

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Shoals of placid middle-aged men dabbing it behind their ears

Frog's back from a meeting about the council's new youth offer.

"What was it like?" I ask him.

"I was the youngest one there," he said, picking at his mustard plaster.

Saving up for a portcullis

I bump into somebody who must remain nameless (Fred Nameless) in the town hall. We exchange gossip about the Council Directorate, a report We Don't Know About, some councillors and the local newspaper. Which sounds more interesting than it really is when it's written down like that, we must try that next time. We've got to that time of year when it's OK to start speculating about the next round of local elections - any earlier and we are voicing opinions in defiance of the wishes of the electorate; very much later and we are compromising our essential political neutrality.

"Still, at least we know it's unlikely that we'll be getting any fascists elected here," says my colleague. "Even the most dyed-in-the-wool local recognises that any incomer seeing Helminthdale as a taste of paradise must have had a really shit home life."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Turner the thumbscrew

Turner Prize disappointment: Helminthdale Council's epic art installation "Helminthdale Town Centre Regeneration" is passed over for Susan Philipsz' "Lowlands."

"We don't mind postmodernist irony," says a judge, "but Helminthdale's effort smacks more of sarcasm."

Vigorously cleaning his paintbrushes

It's an austerity Xmas at Helminthdale, though we're parading under the excuse of being green and recycling and that. We're being very stylish: the papers chains aren't a vulgar harlequinade this year, they're icy white, flecked with black and very nice they look, too.

It's good to know there's a use for old library business plans.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Keeping the brand new rhinoceros away from the snow

These are strange times in Helminthdale, even by its own standards. The word "Confused" has been used by many and often, with thundering understatement. The only answer any honest man could give to any question about anything, literally anything, that may or may not be happening in Helminthdale is: "I don't have the first idea." Luckily, the council is well-enough provisioned with the dishonest to enable staff to be too busy being angry to despair. There's a Fall of Empires vibe running through the whole public sector at the moment — though I personally feel it's more Congress of Vienna than Treaty of Versailles — and The Helminthdale Way Of Doing Things egregiously compounds the disorder and confusion. All we would need now is some kind of implosion amongst the political factions and the joy would be complete. Happy days.

The Library Service is at an advantage in all of this as dazed and confused is its basic waking state anyway. We suffered so many unannounced and unacknowledged cuts during 'the boom years' that there is no cost-cutting efficiency saving of any great size that could be made without frightening the horses. All the 'easy' cuts have long since been made and we don't have the capacity for making serious and sensible real efficiencies because we're spending all of our time managing the plasters over old wounds. Which doesn't mean that we're immune from any cuts — far from it! — but there is no clamour of panic: the prevailing mood is of stage hands attending a long-running and unsuccessful provincial Grand Guignol.

You would hear similar stories across the country.

For me personally this is a time of great uncertainty, though I do keep having to point out that this has always been the case in this job. I have spent all my working life reinventing jobs and rôles so none of this is new territory for me. And to be honest, part of me is being seduced by a "with one bound he was free!" fantasy that doesn't bear close practical inspection. The rest of me thinks I've got a job until someone tells me I haven't got a job and until then it's business as usual. Which is precisely where I've been all along. It isn't as easy as that for some of the other people looking to be in the firing line, unfortunately, and they're going to need help and support if things aren't going to get very unpleasant.

I know that this will sound strange but for me personally the biggest cause for concern is that I seem to be getting my own way on a whole stack of things. As I mentioned to the Major the other day, I appear to have been given yards and yards of rope. I know that, in some respects at least, I'm being played but I'm fine going along with that so long as nobody's going to get hurt; particularly if it means we may scrounge a few more positives out of the situation than appear to be currently on the table.

I've always been an optimist.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You'll never marry that to the engine

Good news: the insurance company's engineer has braved the elements to check out that it's OK for us to be using the lift.

Bad news: he's broken the lift and doesn't know how to fix it. We'll have to get the maintenance engineer out to fix it and then charge the insurance company for the repair.

Seth has made it clear that we aren't to ask about the well-being of our no claims bonus.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Frozen wastelands

Billy Meredith walks by, doing as close to an impersonation of Ernest Shackleton as I ever want to see at the workplace. The mobile library's heating packed in six years ago so it's going to be a nippy sort of day for them and their customers. Especially seeing as the vehicle's so dilapidated these days that the customers elect to stand outside to have the books handed out to them.

"It's the wind chill factor," explains Billy. "When you get the wind howling through that gap in the floor by the rear axle it cuts you right to the bone."

Monday, November 29, 2010


The crowds are already gathering outside the Town Hall for the switching-on of the Christmas light. Town Centre Management have been making a big play of the mystery celebrity they've hired to do the job and the rumour mill is running wild. The consensus of opinion is that it's going to be Frankie Avalon, though a vocal faction in the Planning Department insists it's going to be Heinz. Either way, judging by the state of the teeming masses, there won't be a dry leg on the bus home tonight.

No round envelopes for me!

I've behaved more professionally than this in my time. Daisy Dormouse rings up from Umpty Reference Library:

"We're having a bit of a tidy up. We've got lots of Windows 95 CD-ROMs here."

"Congratulations," I reply.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Galloping gourmets

Bronwyn's just back from a stock consortium meeting in Penkage. They stopped off for lunch at The Cat And Banjolele on Cattermole Street.

"What was the special today?" we ask.

"Spaghetti bolognaise and mash," she answers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority

Posy's just been dealing with a customer who's a distance learner doing her degree online. Posy, who's fresh out of library school, told her about a lot of the free academic library resources you can find on the web; talked her through signing up for a few free e-journals; and sent her away with a spring in her step.

So of course somebody has to take her to one side to tell her that she "pitched that too high."

I despair.

There are parts of this service that imagine that every enquiry can be answered with:
  • "It's on that shelf over there."
  • "There's a PC over there, you can look it up on Google."
  • "Not today, thank you."

Damsels of the octagonal stool

"How's things?" I ask Daisy Duck.

"I haven't actually killed anybody yet," she replies. Quietly.

She says it like this is a good thing.

A slight problem there as the cat's got a bit of a tummy problem

News reaches me of a useful and productive sequence of meetings to make a bit of progress with a few family history projects. Wendy, who has been the Reference & Local History Librarian at Umpty Library since Noah was a lad, spent a whole meeting telling Henry that she doesn't know anything about family history.

The following day she then spent a whole meeting telling Daisy and Bella that they couldn't possibly deliver the family history online sessions they've been assigned to do without the supervision of A Professional.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I didn't come all this way in my second-best hat to be fobbed off

I bump into an old colleague I've not seen in a while (you'll remember him Tom). He's been retired a few years from his old Yorkshire stomping grounds and, like most of the retired people I know, he's a damned sight busier now than he ever was at work, freed as he is from compulsory unproductive activity.

These days he's doing work with the library equivalent of International Rescue, helping to plan the Third World's response to the need for public library services in the United Kingdom.

Up to a few months ago that would have been funny.

An undisciplined impersonation of Edmundo Ros

"I'm going to have to be more careful," says Bronwyn. "I'm going to be done for insolence."
Ordinarily this would be laughable but these aren't ordinary times. This week, Bronwyn's body language is far more eloquent, and a damned sight ruder, than anything I could ever say.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Frog's been doing the story time for a school class visit at Epiphany Library. He's been telling them the story of The Fox And The Crow.

Unfortunately, the children of Epiphany are not entirely in tune with nature. And in the local dialect, "a crow" is a particularly crusty bogie. Hence all the cries and groans of "uurgh!" from the audience.

This has got us thinking. Frog's decided that for one of his next puppet workshops he's going to show the kiddies how to make Billie The Bogie. We reckon it would be easy enough to make:

  • Turn small green Marks & Sparks carrier bag inside out.
  • Smear liberally with glycerine.
  • Stick up nose.
We reckon it's a winner.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Imaginary numbers

I am chatting with a colleague from another place about another subject when we get to comparing cuts in the book fund.

"We're getting a cut of £400,000," he tells me.

"Ouch," I winced. "Mind you, you'd done well to have had that big a book fund after all that business last year."

"Oh, we haven't. The book fund budget's now -£120,000. But the accountants are happy and that's the main thing isn't it?"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Four engagements and a hospital visit

"Hettie's been on the 'phone," says Maybelle. "She says that one of their customers has been in twice today to use the computers and what should she do about it?"

I'm surprised at the question.

"The same as she has been doing for the past ten years, surely?"

I don't know why it's an issue, it's not as if people are fighting for the computers at Catty Library. Libraries love a bit of rationing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The point at which the miner is playing the piano like a maniac

Overheard on the way to a meeting:

"You appear to have some anger issues."

"Yes, I'm bleeding annoyed with you, you pillock."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The hangman's rest

Things must be bad. An old friend who can always be relied on for an "och, it's not like you've broken up with Katherine Hepburn or anything" has just said: "if you need to talk about work we're here to listen."

Note to self: stop being so cheerful, you're frightening people.

A whiff of goatiness

Noreen gets a 'phone call from the lending library upstairs.

"Where are the floor mats for the yoga session?"

Floor mats?

Yoga session?

The only reason any of us down here know that there are weekly yoga sessions in the community room upstairs is that we get a 'phone call every Tuesday morning asking where the floor mats are.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hello, I must be going...

Mobile 'phones.

Now, I'm no fan of mobile 'phones but I don't, generally, have an objection to other people having one.

Except when they forget the bit about them being mobile.

One of the horrors of the modern office, which God knows is Hell on Earth to begin with, is the mobile 'phone that somebody has left on their desk while they go away and play with a photocopier, get a butty from the shop down the road, go and gawp at the bloke who's brought in the new literacy group, that sort of thing.

So there we are, stressed out, running round taking telephone calls for people sitting in their offices not taking telephone calls, in between trying to keep at least one wheel left on the wagon. And then you hear something shout: "Answer me you bastard!" And continue to shout "Answer me you bastard!" for the next five minutes until the caller cottons on that nobody's there. Then, just as you settle down after this nonsense, somebody else's 'phone starts playing some bit of (c)rap music. Very loud. And repeat... Then "Answer me you bastard" tries again. And then a cock crows...

Do your workmates a favour before they kill you: either carry your mobile with you so that you can answer it when somebody rings you or else turn down the sound. A lot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

He served five years in Parkhurst for taking a dive in the South of England Valetta Championship

I'm chatting with the Borough Traffic Engineer, who's on a farewell tour of the pedestrian crossings of the borough.
"I have completed the Circle of Life,"
he tells me. Like you do.
"When I first came here they gave me the job of replacing all the zebra crossings with Pelican Crossings. My final job is to decommission all the Pelican Crossings."

"What are they replacing them with?" I asked.
He blinked owlishly and hid a smirk behind his handkerchief.

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you

I think that in this times of great distress we must celebrate our unsung heroes.

Today's Unsung Hero is the local history librarian who was asked by a management consultant why there was "so much old stuff in the library's archives."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It makes you wonder what the enemy clothes horses were like

I bump into Ken Barmy, who is throwing pineapples at a lamppost in Market Street. He is in a bate.
"You'll never believe the latest proposal," he says.
Given that everyone I'm speaking to these days have either been sent letters asking if they want to take voluntary redundancy; letters telling them that they are at risk of redundancy; letters telling them that they are being made redundant; or all of the above, I shudder to think.
"We're going to Hell in a handcart. They're cutting staff and services and threatening to sell us down the river to a bad master. And all the while our library managers having been wringing their hands and telling us that nothing can be done, but take heart! because they have made sure that the power of the library service strategy stays in their hands.

"And do you know what the end product of a year's high-powered heavy-breathing strategic thinking turns out to be? Do you?"
I confessed I didn't.
"They're going to slap a lick of paint on the fucking wall and change the fucking name of the main fucking library. That's what."

"You don't sound impressed, Ken," I ventured.

"I am sore vexed," he admitted.

The public library service is safe in the hands of people who went to library school.

And when the music stops...

It had to happen.

It only takes the merest mischance, what with our poor communication and documentation; chaotic management; and staff so thinly-spread that they spend more time whizzing round the borough to provide emergency cover at libraries than they do seeing family and loved ones.

On the morning that Helminthdale Central Library, our flagship library mind, was being kept open with three staff Kelly and Norma turned up at Windscape Library.
"What are you doing here?" asked Norma.

"I'm covering for you, you're on holiday," said Kelly.

"But I'm not on holiday until next month," replied Norma.

"Could you not take the day off? I'd like to think I didn't get up an hour early to get the bus over here just to waste my time having to go back to Helminthdale."

Monday, November 08, 2010

Always something there to remind us

My God.

It's only Monday afternoon and we're already doing Sandy Shaw impersonations. It'll be Nat Gonella by Friday.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The moon and half a sixpence

It's a bit difficult to write this blog at the moment. Not because there's not plenty to write about; and not because I don't need to write the worst of it out of my system. It just isn't quite right at the moment:
  • There are the self-imposed strictures on other people's personnel issues. We're public sector workers working for a council that was announcing swingeing cuts to budgets and services before the General Election papers were being sent out so you can make a few guesses there.
  • Many of the people I work with are readers of this blog. These are sensitive times, I need to be more careful than usual. I don't want anybody feeling even more fretful or vulnerable than they are already on account of a daft after-dinner story.
  • I suppose I need to be careful on my own account, too. These are interesting times, I'm in a tricky position personally and I'm pushing my luck a bit with The Powers That Be concerning some of the stuff that's being proposed. And let's face it, I'm not exactly under deep cover here: at least two people have deduced who and/or where by piecing together the clues in the narrative. So I really should be careful. Actually, if it were only me in the firing line I wouldn't give a monkey's but at the moment it wouldn't be, so I do.
  • There are tiny slivers of hope in all this mess. If the library service really does go down the toilet it will be because of an unholy combination of ignorance, arrogance and lack of imagination. I personally have an unholy combination of ignorance, arrogance and overly-active imagination so I'm putting a lot of my energies into trying to support people who are fighting for more positive outcomes. I'm not being awfully effective at it and need to get my act together, I'll admit, but I need to be careful not to compromise even those meagre efforts by telling the wrong tales out of school at the wrong time.
So I'm having to be a lot circumspect at the moment. Apologies and all that.

A brief recap of the last few weeks: next Summer I might or might not be working for the library service or, indeed, the council; as indeed might or might not some of my colleagues. Libraries might or might not be closed next year or the year after. We might or might not be taken over by outside forces or contracted out or something. And most, if not all, of the organisations we work with or provide facilities for, are in the same boat.

Put like that it sounds like business as usual over the past twenty years...

Friday, November 05, 2010

You'd have to go a long way to beat Anna Neagle

I've been staring at screens a lot this week so on the way into work I popped into the chemist's to get some more aspirin and Optrex. They had a special offer on "New Multifunctional Eyewash" so I bought a bottle of that.

Looking at the latest crop of emails coming from the Chief Executive's office they must have bought a few bottles, too.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The world's gone to pieces since they lost their respect for real misery

It's not awfully good this morning. Them as aren't filling in job application forms are writing notes for their war memoirs or for union meetings.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity

Oh God. Please tell me this isn't what life is like in your fifties.

Sibyl, Bronwyn and Frog are talking in the staff room...

"Robert Plant? Isn't he married to what's her face?"

"That's right. She was on doo-dah the other night."

"That's right. Wasn't Elvis Costello on that?"

"No, that was another night."

"Oh yes. I can't remember his name..."


"No, the one who interviewed him when Elvis Presley died."

"Oh yes, that was whasisname."

"That's right, I remember it now."

Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie.

Fairies beware: this year you may be strung up by the Cherokees

You can always tell it's coming up to Xmas because Kitty and Norma start scrapping like Kilkenny cats. This time they're fighting over whose posters get put up on the noticeboard.

It's good to keep a sense of perspective.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yesterday's lozenge

Frog is not unduly impressed.

The week before the half-term holiday he sent a set of children's activity sheets and posters to every library in the borough. And as per usual the set that went upstairs to the lending library went straight into the office and have remained there all week.

He confronted the lending library's librarians about it.

"Oh well. Maybelle's been on leave most of this week," they said. "She should have done it when she was in on Tuesday."
I've suggested that come Xmas he doesn't bother sending anything upstairs and that he should wait and see if they bleat about it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Let's not use the "R" word

The Chief Executive sends a message to all staff:

Don't forget to put your clocks back!

Within minutes it is followed by another global message:

If staff must persist in sending hate mail to Mister Ramsay MacDonald please refrain from doing so on council headed paper.

The rhapsody of the impending evening

'Phone call from the Lending Library. It's Lola.

"We've decided that the PCs in the foyer should be changed into 15-minute express kiosks. Can you come up and change them for us?"

It's five o'clock on the Friday afternoon of a very fraught week and they decide now's the time to start fiddling with the public access systems.

Only my consummate professionalism prevents the answer being: "fuck off and don't be so stupid."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All that we see and seem is but a dream within a dream

I have good days and bad days. This is one of the bad days when I'm convinced that I'm in the circle of Hell reserved for the arrogant and optimistic.

Nil desp.

Objectively, there are chinks of light. Slight and dim, to be sure, but there is scope for things not to be catastrophically awful. Primarily because we're cut so close to the bone anyway it's difficult to see how much more can be cut before the politicians take fright. Except they've taken fright already but still want the cuts. Don't try to work it out, it never makes sense.

I've a pile of stuff to do. The day job plus a bunch of pieces of work which may help set a few lifelines for people in train. It'll take a bit of energy and motivation, which I'm not convinced I've got, to get the job done. That's the energy and motivation I've spent the day using up fighting the urge to shout: "will you shut the fuck up!" at somebody.

We're all a little fraught at the moment and I admit I am no exception.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hope is the thing with feathers

A fairly awful sort of day. Not yet for me personally, for which I should be grateful, but some of the girls are upset by news of cuts within the service. At the moment these are proposed awfulnesses. They are not yet set in stone. But they are still very distressing.

I can see a tiny chink of hope. A teeny tiny chink of hope.

You know that feeling you get when you see a set table and you think you can just yank the tablecloth away and all will stay as set? Well that's how I'm feeling at the moment.

I shall sleep on it. Tomorrow I shall approach the ideas from a different direction and see if I get anything like the same answer.

There are days when I wish I had someone like me to talk to.

Plate tectonics

The earthquake in Indonesia causes a great deal of concern within the council. Helminthdale's twin town is Krakatoa.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just circling the airport

Posy is noisily miffed and in the highest of dudgeons. She tells me, at some quite considerable length, that she had to wait twenty minutes for Sami to relieve her on the enquiry desk.

She would have had a more sympathetic audience had she not spent the whole morning filling in job application forms.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Canal Man's been in the library again. He's a source of gentle backstage amusement and nods of recognition, one of the regular irregular customers.

He's what is technically known these days as a "vulnerable adult," a bit slow on the uptake and with the reading age of a child but very, very keen on books. He'll sometimes borrow a dozen at a time, take them home and then bring them all back the next day so that he can get some new ones. He goes through sequences of obsessions: for a long while it was canals and narrowboats, then it was church architecture and now it's lighthouses. It's a challenge to satisfy the demand from stock but it gives some of the books from the reserve collections an airing, which is no bad thing.

Odd though this behaviour is, I think it's brilliant. Oh yes, the cynic in me will be happy that he's improving our visitor and circulation statistics but that's not the important thing. The important thing is that he's happy. He's found somewhere he can visit safely by himself, he can decide for himself what he does or doesn't borrow and he genuinely likes the books for their own sake. How often does he get to be in control of any transaction or activity? I'm glad we're giving him the opportunity.

And I'm glad he's taking it.

I need to remind myself of these things occasionally.

The part of The British Library was played by Norman Shelley and not Shirley Bassey as advertised

"You seem to have a difficult relationship with your management team," says a passing stranger.

It isn't difficult at all. It's rather easy really: they think I'm a gobshite and I think they're irresponsible idiots.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lurching to its breathless conclusion on page 19 just under the corset adverts

I bump into Ken Barmy, having his socks darned at the milk bar in Hannigan's Truss Boutique. We swap the usual tales of disaster.

"The contempt and hatred that our library managers have for our library staff is only matched by the contempt and hatred that our library staff have for our library managers," he tells me.

All in this together...

The international language of cramp

The only thing more dispiriting than having your managers refuse to communicate with you is having one of them actually answer a question that you have asked...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This chemical has been shown to cause sarcasm in mice

Verity is in lumber. The shutters to the main door at Roadkill Library wouldn't open so they've had to open them manually. The problem is that they don't close manually so unless it's fixed by close of play she'll either have to leave the place wide open (the door doesn't lock if the shutter mechanism isn't engaged) or else camp out in the library overnight. She followed the set procedure and reported the repair to Maisie who then reported it to Building Services. Verity then tried to contact Julia, who's in charge of that library, inter alia. Julia was in a meeting. Over the next twenty minutes, which tells you more than you want to know about our telephone systems, interpersonal communications and practical application of knowledge management techniques, Verity spoke to Doreen, Milton, Sybil and Noreen to try to get the budget codes necessary to authorise the repairs. (Sybil and Noreen don't have access to the budget codes but at least they will answer the 'phone.)

A couple of hours later, Julia decides to give Verity a dressing down.

"You shouldn't have done anything until you'd spoken to me," says Julia.

"I rang and you were in a meeting. So I sent you an email marked urgent explaining what had happened so that you'd be able to pick it up when you got out of your meeting," explained Verity.

"I went straight from that meeting into another one."

"I know. Then when I rang you for the third time you were on your way over to Dutch Bend. So I asked Milton if he could sort things out because we were getting a bit worried about it."

"You'll never be able to get an electrician at this time in the afternoon."

"He's here at the moment. Do you want a word with him?" asked Verity.

"Lady Chatterly's Lover," a tale of simple farming folk

Frog is ordering some stuff for the Story Time Dressing Up Box - bits of cheap fancy dress costume that the kids can put on when they join in with the stories he's telling.

"It took me ages to find out what those leggings actually are. Technically they're 'Early Period Hose'," he tells us.

At the end of the month I suspect I'm going to have to explain to the Internet Naughtiness Police why somebody was looking for "early period ho's" on a staff PC...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A string of exotic beards

A colleague writes to tell me that they've just had a fire alarm in the library.

"It's the first time most of the staff have seen our managers since Easter!"

All the best travelogues contain rickety foreign trains

The mobile library has been "urgently due for replacement" for longer than 17% of our customer base has been alive.

"The mobile's a proper advert for the council," says Billy. "It's a shit-tip and it's falling apart. In that case it does what it says on the tin."

We're running out of medals, you'll have to order some more cornflakes

"I'm sorry, but our staff need to be more flexible and they need to take responsibility themselves for making sure they know how to do their job,"

says Julia. Who has worked for us for a dozen years and still doesn't know how to find out how many books any of her libraries have loaned out on any given day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be a party to this afternoon's Library Efficiencies Strategic Meeting.

I sit through the three-hour cavalcade in slack-jawed awe and wonder. The depth of knowledge. The attention to detail. The apparently chance happenstances of the past year that turn out to have been covert manoeuvrings designed to temper the characters of key players in the game. Each piece on the board honed and polished to within an inch of perfection. The broad majestic sweep of the vision. The clarity of the goals. The ruthless efficiency of the machine that is the library service. Each player knows their part and has learned their marks. Each move has been rehearsed until it is the very stuff of primal instinct. Confidence abounds. The feints and counterfeints are delicately crafted, each one an exquisite tribute to the best of the arts of the contingency planner.

Like shimmering minnows or starlings in the Autumn dusk the library service can jink and dart avoiding each unexpected danger with an effortless grace and delicacy of movement, turning on a sixpence to avoid any chance of disaster.

It is breath taking.

It is inspiring.

It is just so... so... so...


My God. I actually do wish that T.Aldous were back at the helm.

On the bleakest day Autumn could muster

Meeting in the Town Hall. Me, Milton, a few guys from the IT Department. Trying not to talk about the new Town Hall redevelopment. Trying to concentrate on part of a new network. I glance over and catch my reflection in a computer screen. I look round the table. It feels like five minutes ago that we were youngish, go-getting, can-do.

Just five minutes ago, surely?

I wonder who these old men are, quietly waiting for retirement or worse...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gardener's World

Bronwyn is borrowing Frog's desk while her corner of the office is being discombobulated in the name of progress.

"Have you weighed this desk up?" she asks.

"How do you mean?"

"Well... The chair's been lowered so that you can't see him when he's sat at his desk. Then there's all the piles of stuff in boxes arranged around it. And look at the stuff on here!"

It's true. He's even got the pot plants in various stages of propagation. Not to mention a dibber, a trowel and a ball of green twine.

What we have here is an in-office garden shed.

All he needs is the kettle on a gas ring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I have great faith in fools

In the United States today is National Boss Day.

How we laughed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and consciencious stupidity

Some people have spent the day at Internet Librarian International 2010 some people have.

I wish I could explain why I shall spend the rest of my life laughing at a coincidence.

Perhaps when I write my memoirs after I've been demobbed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some marigolds on my pillow

Incoming bits and bobs. A few old, knackered PCs that the reference library at Dutch Bend have foisted on us. Some broken keyboards. A box of cable ends for old dumb terminals we threw away a decade ago. Some metal boxes. A dozen Windows 97 system CD-ROMs.

"Christmas comes early," I mutter.

"Yes, we can't just throw shit away, can we?" replies Maudie.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Luddite optimism

Multi-functional devices.

If you know about multi-functional devices you don't need me to say any more.

If you don't know about multi-functional devices it's an act of Christian charity to keep you in blissful ignorance.

That's another Tuesday morning rattled.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cast he that is stoned without sin

The good thing about having a mezzanine floor to a library is that a customer can be sick over the parapet and have it land on one of his mates as he walks down the stairs.

Height restrictions apply

As I mentioned the other day, the first and foremost priority for the library service is the number of visitors a-coming through the doors.

Time was we'd employ small youths and pensioners to sit by the teapot for a week making five-, six- and nine- barred gates to record the number of people that might have come in when they were talking to a friend who'd popped in to return their library book. These days we're much more scientific, with the white-hot heat of technology employed to record our visitors with pinpoint accuracy.

Roadkill Library is next door to a children's centre with a busy day nursery and a couple of doors down from a primary school. It's the sort of area where the children get by as best they can during the day (what we used to call 'latchkey children'), using the library as a refuge and stopping place where they can read a book or play on the computers or generally just do what small children are wont to do.

So the device that records the visitors at Roadkill Library doesn't record anybody less than five feet tall...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If the chocolate in the fountain tastes bitter it's because it's been laced with my tears

I've been tidying out some of the folders on my laptop. I look at the odd bits of workings-out; the reports and recommendations; the outline plans and sketches for things we could do and deliver and I feel an overwhelming sense of misuse of purpose.

Looking at the service development and achievements at work over the past five years I could have just as usefully spent my time sitting atop a Belisha beacon with a bottle of vodka in my hand, singing bawdy songs at passing policemen.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The world would be a birthday cake

We are told that the big priority for the library service is to increase the number of visitors to our libraries. We are told that the most important thing we can possibly do is to increase the number of visitors to our libraries. I am told that we should not be providing services only because if people can get services online they won't visit our libraries (this is cock, of course, but this is what I am told; governments of all stripes tell me different so I have an excuse to do what needs doing).

So, as you can imagine, it's important for us to increase the number of visitors to our libraries.

Spadespit Library's charity afternoon tea yesterday was a rip-roaring success. Over the course of three and a half hours they had hundreds of additional visitors. Lots of money has been raised for charity and the staff, who'd prepared everything in their own time and bought all the goodies themselves, were thanked profusely by their customers.

They've been told not to do it again as it's too disruptive to the everyday business of the library.

Clouds made out of angel spit

It's like Nob Hill here this morning. There's sneezing and coughing and spluttering and the welkin rings with moans and groans and guttural oaths and that's just Frog. Some of the others are in an even worse state. Luckily, you can always count on the sympathy of your co-workers in this place.

Sami is looking and sounding delicate:

"I feel awful. My throat's red-raw."

"That'll be the ribbed condoms."

"No, I mean it. I've got swollen glands."

It's been a long time since Sami was Junior Miss size.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Two years later he became the racing correspondent of The War Cry

An epiphany...

Have had lunch with an old colleague. On my arrival he looked at me, scowled and said:

"These days you're dressing like the foreign correspondent of some antediluvian broadsheet."

It suddenly occurs to me what I've been doing here all these years.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning

Doreen, sitting in her office downstairs in Helminthdale Central Library, rang upstairs to talk to somebody in the Lending Library.

The Lending Library, being just one person today (in our flagship main library in the borough) was busy serving a queue of customers.

Doreen is in charge of Helminthdale Central Library.

What would you do chums?


Doreen rang BT to see if there was a fault on the line.

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one

I've given more diplomatic answers...

Julia's just come back from a meeting of Librarians What Talk At Tables.

"Leamholt's got a really active Facebook page. Why aren't we engaging with social networking like that?" she asks me.

I hear myself say:

"Strictly speaking, you're not even engaging with the World Wide Web."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

There's enough there for a potato each

Another day another gaggle of superannuated yahoos traipsing through the office brandishing tape measures.

It turns out that this group is doing an audit of the council's storage space. I suppose it's lucky that we'd just received this month's meagre ration of new books plus another batch of "Book Off" books for to be distributed around the schools of the borough.

If you learn nothing else today, learn this: if you ever go backstage at a bookshop or a printer's or a library, don't say: "Ooh, what a lot of books!"

And whatever you do, don't say: "I'd be spending all my time reading the books!" You won't be getting the response you'd get from the publican you accused of drinking all their stock, but you won't be expecting it!

The passers-by see only a wisp of smoke

Councillor Dogberry turned up unannounced at Windscape Library yesterday evening, told the Library Assistant that he was on The Committee at Sheep City and proceeded to interrogate her about the state and performance of the library. Which is very inquisitive of him as he represents a ward fifteen miles away. Having no standing orders to the contrary, or even any standing orders whatsoever, and The Elemental Masters Of Reality being incommunicado as per bloody usual, and not having been required to sign the Official Secrets Act, she answered as best she could.

Once the inquisition abated she had a question for him: "Why have you come here and why are you asking all these questions?"

"Because I'm entitled to," he snapped as he made his exit.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A visit to a sausage rehabilitation centre in Wiltshire

I have recently been preoccupied with establishing a Plan B for when everything goes pear-shaped (eighteen days and counting). Of course, the major problem at a time like this when everyone is waiting to see if they'll still have a job after Xmas is that everyone is waiting to see if they'll still have a job after Xmas. And that includes the people who have just changed jobs or are applying for new ones which may or may not still exist after Xmas...

So I spent a bit of time researching consultancy. Part of the appeal is that it doesn't necessarily require you to immediately jump from the existing ship to make a start of it. And I do quite a lot of informal consultancy work in the course of the job and it's the part I actually find the most rewarding and productive.

In my experience there are two worthwhile types of consultant:
  • generalists who help you realise what you know and what to do with it; and
  • specialists who are there to provide specific expert knowledge.
(I'm not interested in the types that aren't worthwhile; especially not the "percentage slicers" from the big management consultancy corporations.)

Thinking about it objectively my knowledge isn't especially specific or particularly expert, especially when viewed from the world outside Helminthdale. So I'd have to try to sell myself as the helpful generalist I can be when the mood takes me. Which is where I would frankly struggle. What would be my selling point? I'm an excellent listener and know how to ask questions that can lead people to answers they need rather than answers they want. Some of that comes from the days when I did advice work: more often than not the presenting problem wasn't the reason for seeking advice and you had to learn the ways of getting to the nub without either scaring off or antagonising the client. (Besides, it's down to my basic wiring: if somebody says: "I want to get there" my first inclination is to ask why.) Which is all well and good but is a difficult thing to sell to a stranger. And that's what I'm really bad at. I can talk up the good points (there are many!) of our services. I can help friends and colleagues identify and even buy into their strengths and experiences. But myself? Nah... Which makes for an important handicap in entering any competitive market.

Furthermore, I'd need to get my act together rather better than I have these days. Organisationally I'm currently a shambles almost on a par with the library service. A catastrophic impediment to the jobbing consultant I'd think.

Finally, there's all those people waiting to see if they're going to be having to walk the plank next year. The market will be saturated with wannabe consultants of one stripe or another. Yeah, I know there's always room at the top but you still need to force your way through the crowds to get to base camp in the first place. At this stage of my life I don't think I have the confidence or gumption to do that effectively. So it looks like I'm going to have to do something about that.

In the mean time it looks like consultancy isn't my Plan B. A world breathes a sigh of relief.

For now.

On a clear night with that I can see the end of the bed

I suppose that the Sunday morning dream where I find myself fighting my way through a packed convention centre trying to find out who's pinched my computer screen after finding that
  • The server room's been bricked up by senior librarians;
  • My desk's been replaced by a coffee table and three sofabeds complete with pre-installed hippies with guitars; and
  • I can't shout because my throat is filled with my own vomit
means that I'll be taking a few anxiety issues to work with me Monday morning.

Friday, October 01, 2010

It is, of course, a British Rail sausage, built in 1954

Seth's got his work cut out for him over the weekend: he's cleaning out the fridge in the staff room. He decided it needed doing after he found a bag of meat that had become liquid.

Past times

One hundred years ago today...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A repetition of fingers

Verity's got some interesting news:

"Councillor Mountebank was at the Action Area Committee meeting last night. He was telling them all that there are plans to close all the libraries and turn them into housing offices. Which is odd because they've closed all the housing offices: the tenants have to get the bus into Catty to report repairs nowadays. But he insisted it was true."

"I wonder where he got that idea from."

"You know what he's like. There's no love lost between him and the Chairman of the Committee. He said that he wasn't having that news adding to the minutes just on Councillor Mountebank's say-so. They spent the rest of the meeting squabbling about the new school playground."

There's more smoke than mirrors around these parts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Robin Hood's Bicycle Division

Some more midget gems of current thinking from the reference library shelves:

  • Great Britain: House Of Commons: Employment Commitee :Youth Employment and Training: New Training Initiative (June 1982)
  • Reorganisation Of Public Elementary Schools In England And Wales 1937-38
  • Better Schools (1985)
  • The Internal Purchasing Power Of The Pound (1989)
  • Who Publishes Official Information For Business And Industry? Proceedings Of A One-Day Seminar 20 Sept 1988
  • Financial Services In The United Kingdom: A New Framework For Investor Protection (White Paper) (1985)
  • Employment For The 1990's (White Paper)
  • Commercial Property Development (1975)
  • Broadcasting In The '90s
  • 2nd Report Of The Committee: A Comparison Of Transition Temperatures Determined By Small And Large Scale Tests On Five Steels (1960)
  • A Simple Guide To Basic Processes In The Iron And Steel Industry (1964)
  • The Queen's Award To Industry. Report Of The 1970 Review Committee
  • Session 1987-88 Fifth Report The Future Of The National Health ServiceFirst Report From The Social Services Committee Session 1985-86: Reform Of Social Security
  • The Artificial Kidney... What It Is And How It Works (1965)
  • Europe: A Time To Choose, Elections June 1984
  • More Examples Of English Handwriting With Essex Parish Records Of 13th - 18th Centuries (1950)
  • Aids To Identification Of Flying Objects (1968)
  • Collectable Silver (1963)
  • A Policy For The Arts (The First Steps.) Cmnd. Paper 2601 (1965)
  • A Brief History Of The National Gallery Of Scotland (1961)
  • Local Government Reform: Short Version Of The Report (1969)
  • Battle For The Counties: Guide To The County Council Elections May 1977

There'll be a little more stock-editing going on this Autumn, I think!

Every man is divinity in disguise ...it is God playing the fool

A colleague writes:

"When the phone call starts “this is Andrew”, it is the start of what can only be a period of serious misery. (Andrew is affectionately referred to hereabouts as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.)

"Anyway, the left hand counter PC had somehow, and mysteriously, got itself in a state whereby it wouldn’t reboot. Quite how it had got there is a mystery which would baffle Mr. Morse, Mr. Homes and Mr. Fu Manchu, as Mr. Blofeld wasn’t for letting on as to how it had become so afflicted. He did say however that efforts to reboot had involved pressing F2s and F12s, which was somewhat worrying as messing around with such is a typical, nasty trick at this library.

"However having visited and rebooted, resaved stuff they may have F2 ed off, and F4 ed a couple of times things seem ok, well all except my temperate demeanour and stress levels. I suppose it could have been worse as Mr. Blofeld was elsewhere, probably plotting to take over the world beyond with Mr Scaramanga, and his faithful assistant was, hopefully, heading into the sea, not out of it. "

These days I don't think I'd have the patience for that sort of nonsense: if they've fucked the PC they can fix it would be my response. Stories like this from colleagues in other library services remind me how lucky I've been with most of our front-line staff over the years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Elephants never forget

It was my fault. I had warned about the onset of barbarism...

It wasn't as bad as that afternoon we lost to the Moomins but it was quite bad enough.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My head's completely curly-wurly

Conversation with Milton:

"You know that web stuff you've been working on? Well, I've been talking to some people about a product that does pretty much the same thing. They've been using it in other libraries and they reckon it'll do the job. I'm seeing them tomorrow. You can come along if you want."

I can come along if I want? Three months' work potentially down the toilet and I can come along if I want.

Pictures at an exhibition

A couple of the Counter Assistants had too merry a Sunday lunchtime and went home with tattoos. "What did you get?" we ask them.

"I don't know what it's supposed to be," says Cora.

"It's a Chinese lucky charm symbol," insists Sue.

"It's a Chinese lucky charm symbol," says Cora.

We're obviously not convinced.

"Well, I'm not showing you mine," says Cora. "Not where I've got it."

We all boggle slightly.

"Here, I'll show you mine,"

says Sue, who's obviously said that before to a group in a closed room. It turns out to be just below her collarbone. The gentlemen decline the offer. Lippy checks it out.

"Is this supposed to be a Chinese lucky charm symbol then?" she asks.

"Yes," replies Sue.

"Why's it say 'Milk Marketing Board' then?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Field-dressing a moose

Thelma is fed up.

Epiphany Library is closed on Fridays so she has to come in to Helminthdale to provide a spare body in the lending library.

"Every time I come in something else has been changed and the people who know anything about it aren't in. It's embarrassing watching people floundering, trying to find out where something's been moved to this time while the customer's stood there tutting and drumming their fingers."

It's true enough: it's falling apart upstairs. You can never guess from one day to the next which staff are going to be in. No sooner do they get their coats off they've got to rush out to cover an unexpected hole in one library or another. It's been months since they've had a staff meeting with more than two people in it. It's a constant wonder they know which town they're in, let alone where the library cards have moved to this week. Frog and Bronwyn have given up asking for anything to be done up there unless they're doing it themselves. That's my working relationship with most of the library service this days.

Unfortunately I don't see it getting any better.

Quite the reverse, in fact.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Human flowers

We're struggling a bit so now is the time for firm and decisive leadership to steer the library service through hard times.

Library Strategy Group (this week) is pulling together to reach new lows of teamwork and dependability:
  • Doreen isn't talking to Milton.
  • Doreen and Julia are sometimes talking to each other.
  • Nobody's talking to Jack Harry.
  • None of them are talking to the rest of the staff.
Things have become a little more fraught since the announcement of a series of Service Efficiency Reviews.
  • Julia and Doreen are pissed off because they've been included in the Buildings Management Review and Jack Harry and Milton haven't. Jack Harry and Milton don't manage any buildings but that doesn't come into it.
  • Jack Harry finds himself included in the Transformational Management Review, which isn't as exciting as it sounds and thrills him no end as it's become painfully apparent that whoever's scoped this particular review just looked at the lists of people who attend (or, more strictly, get sent to) half a dozen of the council's Policy Development Meetings and decided that these are Transformation Managers, efficiencies for the use of, regardless of what any of them actually do for a living.
  • Milton's not embroiled in any of the corporate senior management reviews, which rankles with Julia and Doreen, who would have a lot to say about it if they hadn't already fallen out with him about something else entirely.
  • For some reason none of them are involved in the Regeneration & Strategic Planning Review.
  • The results of a review of the management of the library service will be available next month.
To add to the fun, Warner, who has been the council's main troubleshooter over the past twenty years, has had another service added to his empire with directions from the Chief Executive to Turn It Round and let his deputies run the rest of the business. The idea that any other service in the council could be a bigger problem than the library service affords us a heady mixture of relief and blank horror.

Elsewhere in the universe some of the rest of us look like being affected by the Service Efficiency Reviews just as much as the Olympians:
  • Maisie and Maudie are to be included in the Financial Support Services Audit, the stated objective of which is the creation of a central Financial Support Services Team, to be located in the Town Hall Annexe. Only by the grace of God and our managers not having the first idea of what they do did the Acquisitions Team avoid getting dragged into this scrape.
  • I was damnably lucky to have escaped getting entangled with the IT outsourcing, thanks in part to a magnificent bit of circumlocutory lunacy by T.Aldous at the time. I doubt I'll be so lucky when it comes to the Information Support Services Audit that's being talked about at the moment. Strange that the reference library doesn't figure in this...
  • The Fleet Disposition Analysis is going to make life just as awkward for the mobile library as it is for the library courier van and the housebound library service.
  • One of the results of the Office Space Rationalisation Programme looks like our having to make space for Library Strategy Group (this week) some time this Autumn as they will be having to budge up so that the social workers from Ted Kavanagh House can move in. We suspect that this is what all the tape measures were really about early in the summer.
  • Something is brewing in Sheep City which might drag in at least Dutch Bend and Catty libraries, if not all of them.
  • And we'll all have to have our advocacy trousers on when the Customer Support Services Audit kicks in at the end of the year.
Happy days. And this is before we have to start worrying about Dave's Big Society, councils sharing services or whatever the DCMS has in mind for delivering library services in supermarkets (or in Helminthdale's case, vacant retail spaces; oh no, we're already doing that).

The Paris Zoo looks forward to the Franco-Prussian War

A couple of boxes of books arrive for the Acquisitions Team. Huzzah! All is not lost!

Alas, it's just a pile of old books from Umpty Library, each labelled: "For Recataloguing." Half are stamped "Withdrawn from stock. For Sale." The other half look as if they could have walked here themselves.

Noreen and Bronwyn agree that although times are hard they aren't quite that hard and aren't likely to become so any time in the near future. It is decided that we should dispose of the books.

There is a lengthy discussion as to who should nip out for the holy water and sharpened stake, just in case.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A mist of grease vapour

As part of the council's new healthy living initiative library staff have taken to eurythmic dancing in the staff canteen.

Asking Liberace to powder his own piano

A 'phone call from the Reference Library.

"The new PC in the Ref. office isn't printing," says Eileen.

"Are you getting any error messages or anything?" I ask.

"No, it just says 'Printer can't be found.'"

"Which printer is it set up to use?"

"I don't know."

"Which one should it be using?"

After a full minute's silence I blink first.

"I'll come up and have a look at it."

(The techies amongst you will have guessed that it's the printer on the Ref. desk and that for some reason somebody had changed the PC's settings to print to a non-existant printer.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braised fruit in trousers smoulder

A few people have asked about progress with last year's Transformational Exercise.

As, indeed, did we.

Time and motion

There's no money about.

Which is why the council's been installing energy-saving motion sensors in Tench Road Community School so that the lights go out when nobody's in the building.

The school is going to be demolished next Easter when the new library building's commissioned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Hobson's choice of dooms

Chatting to someone from the IT Department we get to talking about all the talking about cuts.

"How's your business affected?" I ask her.

"Oh, twenty-five per cent cuts, same as everyone else."

"How's that work? They outsourced you and sold you to the lowest bidder so you're not a council department any more."

"That's true. We're not council workers any more. They've changed the pension and redundancy agreements and they regraded down all our salaries. But when the council's trying to save money we still get our share of the cuts."

"They can't do that, can they?"

Evidently they can.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pointing at darkness

Being a servant of the people I am not allowed to say anything that may be construed as being politically partisan. I suspect that I am allowed to be alarmed a tad at the onward rush of the New Age Of Austerity and the strategic leaks about the council's financial position that each add thirty million to the figure leaked five weeks previously. In ordinary circumstances one would suspect that these are a softening-up exercise so that when we discover that we are only to have two limbs surgically-removed and not three we'll be overcome by relief and grateful for the last-minute rescue by sundry financial wizards.

Last week, looking at the cardboard cut-outs of shop interiors gracing the shop windows of Inkerman Street and the latest closing down sale of a charity shop in The Arcade, I wasn't so sure. I'm even less sure on sober reflection.

The Machiavellian in me wonders if the ruling parties have decided that they're going to get a kicking in the next municipal elections so they're going to leave scorched earth for the incoming administration.

The observational scientist in me wonders how Helminthdale Council will manage to make the cuts without the savings.

The rationalist in me thinks I should start buying Lottery tickets.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's not just doorknobs that come off in your hand

If I had a pound for every time someone said: "I almost wish T.Aldous was back in charge of this place" this week I'd have a smashing weekend.

(Just for the record, I said it the once.)

Commonwealth Senna Pod Day

The consensus of opinion in the office is that I am clutching at straws. I've spent the past few weeks trying to accentuate the positive and persuade people that they aren't necessarily doomed. Most of the time I can wear them down enough to pretend they've almost been persuaded but today they're not having any.

"Look at the advantages we've got over the rest of the council," I said.

"What advantages?" they asked.

"It's utter chaos out there. Nobody's got the first idea what the hell is going on and can't plan ahead from one day to the next."


"That's how we've always worked. We're used to it. And what's more, we actually still manage to deliver services that the public like and appreciate and say nice things about in government surveys. While they're all wandering around all dazed and confused we could be nipping in there, nobbling the councillors."

Thursday, September 16, 2010


One corner of the office is having a touch of the Cyndi Laupers:

"Come to work in the morning light.
No idea if I'm doing anything right.
I'll soon know if I get it wrong.
Librarians having fun.
Librarians having fun."

Advice to live by

"You can't go to the hairdresser's with a full bladder," says Lippy.

How true those words are, even today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Any other attention-seeking squirrels in the news this week?

Do we really need to explain to a senior manager that if you keep stock in boxes in a back room in one of their libraries then it won't be heavily-used by our customers?

Apparently we do.

Bronwyn decides she's going to do it as she's more tactful than me.

It's an interesting situation. It's not often I hear her say "fuck."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kismet has had a hand in it

Frog is dead nosy, which is just as well really as that envelope in the dispatch room addressed "Helminthdale Library" is actually a pile of colouring competition entries from one of our libraries that should have been marked: "Urgent: for attention Frog. Colouring competition."

Monday, September 13, 2010

The juggler got six months and the dog got its licence endorsed

I bump into Ken Barmy, who's taking the black dog for a walk. He is more than usually impressed by the standard of their local leadership.

"We have no strategy for survival but we know what to do if we see a dog having a shit."

Good luck with your OFSTED, Mr. Chips

"I had an awful morning at Pottersbury Road," Deirdre moans, "the kids were running amuck."

"Did you tell them to pack it in?" asks Thelma.

"Well, no."

"I think that might be why."

Which one do you think was a teacher?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tonight, Matthew, I shall be Edmund, Earl of Warwick

A guest entry to the songbook, with apologies to Innes

Listen to the calendar,
It's getting way past April.
We don't know what we're doing or what for.
How can we get away with
Shambling day to day?
We don't have clouds and smokescreens any more.

You know that thing that you've been doing?
Well, it's not important.
Although everything's a top priority.
And everything is all-fire urgent,
Needed yesterday.
But will we ever use it? Well, we'll see...

Reality is scratching on our doorstep.
The bogeyman breathes on the window pane.
The year half gone it finally dawns on us
It's library business planning time again.

So will we know what's needing doing
And just how to do it?
It is assumed but really I'm just not so sure.
Planning how to talk about it
Is a plan too far.
Seems we're not business planning any more.

The cold winds blow and we lie unprotected.
Rudderless, we float the stormy tide.
Overstretched staff, we see strains are showing
And managers just in it for the ride.

Listen to the tolling bell, it tells of cuts approaching.
What should we keep? What can safely let go?
What priorities to work to?
How are they resourced?
If we don't know by now we'll never know.

If we don't know by now we'll never know...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pissing on somebody else's chips

One of the higher-ups in the council is having an "on the shop floor" day in one of our libraries.

"What do you see yourself doing in a couple of years' time?" he asked one of the assistants.

"I'd hope I'd have been given a redundancy pay-off by then," she replied.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

You're never alone with a pilchard

Had to nip out to Umpty Library. For some reason the bus smells of fish paste.

I don't know why.

I'm happier not knowing.

All day long the sky is blue and no one has a lot to do in Shangri-La

Walking in to work is a dismal affair. As I walk through the derelict bus station and past the boarded-up shops I see old allies and adversaries, tired pensioners in polo shirts and tracksuit bottoms shuffling their way to nothing in particular.

I'm really not in the mood for this.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ancestral voices

A colleague writes:

"One of the users has been giving staff a rare old run around while trying to trace her family tree. Thing is the same woman claims to be a medium, so as quite rightly the Family History Librarian points out, if she was any good as a medium she could just ask her ancestors and do her tree that way without bothering them."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Twilight in the tropics

The new energy-saving motion sensors in Noddy Library are a huge success. A huge success. Every so often there'll be a shriek in the reading room when the lights go out on some unwary reader.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Make a juggler drop his clubs

We thought it was the air-conditioning.

It turned out to be a beefburger in a box in the staff room.


A conversation between Jack Harry and Bronwyn:

"Bronwyn, we're getting a lot of complaints about the state of the biographies at Catty Library. They could do with some new stock."

"Yes, I know. I think I've worked out which libraries I need to swap with so that they all get a decent lot of fresh books."

"Why don't we just order a pile from the non-fiction budget?"

"There's no money in it now it's been cut."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A question of roughage

Maybell is a bit worried.
"You're losing your touch," she says. "I was talking to Julia and Doreen and mentioned something and they said: 'That's come from someone else.' Just thought you'd need to know."
I'm actually not fussed. I'm deliberately making it obvious what I'm doing. I'm even going out of my way to tell people that I'm pulling their strings. I'm an old man in a hurry and the time for subtlety, if it ever existed, has long gone. I've spent years trying to avoid playing office politics games, now they're unavoidable if there's to be much chance of safeguarding jobs and services. There are mutterings from Catty Library that I'm empire-building. I suggested that if I were really into empire-building I wouldn't have wasted the better part of two decades in this shambles.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I've been trying for so long to make a name in this business that I've forgotten what it is

We live in interesting times, as the old curse has it. We are thrice-cursed by:
  • The routine disarray of Helminthdale Library Service, particularly its management lapses;
  • The routine disarray of Helminthdale Council, compounded by the sudden need to fix a humongous gap in the finances (it is entirely untrue to suggest that one of the departmental budgets fell at Kempton Park, though it's a fun anecdote); and
  • The government's impending imposition of austerity economics, including the commissioning of Utility siren suits for senior members of the banking fraternity.
A few suggestions have now been put on the table. It would be naive to expect there to be any good news. It would be nice to have any news that wasn't actually baffling. All the current proposals are predicated on savings generated by shared services and partnership working. Which is great so long as you don't go looking at the details. For instance, the impact of the cuts in the careers services are to be obviated by the youth service's taking on more of their role; and the impact of the cuts in the youth service are to be obviated by...

Friday afternoon's staff briefing wasn't especially illuminating. For the most part it's good news for the library service as the song is: "we'll have a think about this later." Which may be a stay of execution or not but at the very least it isn't a bonfire of our particular vanities just yet. Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) are justifiably antsy because it heralds yet another re-jig of their jobs with no guarantee that any of them will be safe. Those rest of us who provide support services to the library service but don't have the word 'Librarian' in our job description are also looking a bit vulnerable.

I get the distinct impression that my job's there to fight for should I put the effort in for it. The irony doesn't escape me (they seldom do). I don't know if I'm up for yet another fight or not. What with one thing or another I'm feeling pretty burnt out and jaded at the moment.

I've spent a long time telling people that there's still all to play for. I just need to manage to convince myself some time.