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

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Bulgarian boll weevil mourning its first-born

T.Aldous is in high dudgeon. He's sorting out some problems with the building contract for Cattermole Street Library. Unfortunately for him, he's been sending emails to the wrong person.

"Wesley Hancock's retired," he tells Maisie. "He told me he was retiring at the end of February, which I would have thought would be the end of this week. He must have had some days' leave left to take because the cheeky beggar left last week without telling me."

Maisie is earning all her sainthood points.

But in spite of that

Amidst all the majesty and excitement it's easy to forget that we're in the business of providing a library service to the public. Those of you who are not in the business may be interested to know that we're now entering the most challenging part of the business year.
  • We don't have enough staff to do what we do the way that we do it at the best of times. With frozen vacancies and retirements at the front line it's made all the more difficult. Consequently, for most of the year most applications for annual leave are turned down because "there's not enough staff on that day." All annual leave has to be taken, without exception, by the end of March. So everybody's on leave throughout most of March and the service is on its knees.
  • All the expenditure that hasn't been allowed all year suddenly has to be done and dusted before the third week in March. Which means that you can't buy any of the things you wanted or needed for most of the year and can only buy stuff that can be ordered and delivered virtually overnight. Luckily, there's no money about this year so we may be spared the constant inflow of cupboards, desks, chairs and paperback spinners for no apparent reason. We may still cop for a pile of waste paper baskets, though.
  • All our statutory statistical returns are done for the end of the financial year. Which means that this is usually the month when there's a mad splurge in book-buying for to meet those targets (luckily there's no money about this year so we won't be repeating the performance where 40% of the year's acquisitions are done in the last six weeks of the year). This is the last opportunity to bump up the visitor figures and to get them to borrow more books. Which we do by running additional events and promotional activities using the people we don't have available because they're on leave.

A new wrinkle this year is that Frog's discovered that a project that Mary told him didn't have any money left in it has actually got a big lot of money that's got to be spent by the middle of April. He can't buy books from it but can spend it on training events, author visits and poetry performances. He could have had an event every fortnight for the past eight months. But no, Mary thought that the money could be reported as having been spent on administration (and the money going where precisely?). And so Frog's desperately trying to put together a programme of events and activities for early Spring. (Which we do by running additional events and promotional activities using the people we don't have available because they're on leave.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A tiny spark in the fog

It wasn't a big fire and there wasn't any damage. it didn't even set off the smoke detector.

(The smoke detector burnt out.)

I do symbolic dancing in front of the mirror

T.Aldous talking to Maisie:

"Get me a price for a new whiteboard for the staff room. We can put it next to the door to the ladies' so that we can put the Swine Flu updates there. They're quite cheap, so we'd probably be best getting a couple more, just in case.

"Somebody from Building Services should be ringing about the fire alarm at Spadespit Library. My 'phone's through to you so could you put it through to me when he does?"

T.Aldous has been retired for the best part of a month.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The trousers of an atheist

T.Aldous has burnt out the paper shredder.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Twenty miles from Colditz, Puss, and not a sign of Dick!

Working in a library is an opportunity to immerse yourself in posh intellectual chat. A case in point, overheard in the staff room...
"How's your leg?"

"It still hurts. I reckon I'm going to get a scar."

"Oh well, if we're going to be sharing scars I'll show you mine."

"Don't do it!!! If she ever offers to show you her scars make an excuse and leave. It's full of bite marks from the teeth of sailors of the seven seas."

"How did you know about that?"

"We had to take your trollies down when we had to get you out of Tunnel Dick."

"I've never been in Tunnel Dick."

"Yes you have. You've blanked it out. Must be the trauma of the cave-in."

"We had to dig you out."

"Ooh eck."

"It was a devil of a job pulling you out of Tunnel Dick."

"Well, that would make a change. Usually I'm having trouble..."

"Don't say it!!!"

"It was on the tip of me tongue."

"Not for the first time duckie!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

A banana skin at the Bodega Ballroom, Bognor

It must be Monday, the lift's out of order again.

A red mist spread over the lawn

It wouldn't be fair to say that people aren't trying to engage in change. If I take a step back and look at what people are doing and the tentative steps they're taking then by any objective measure they are trying to engage in change, however fitfully or wrong-headedly.

But I don't want to be fair.

We've had public access PCs for the best part of a decade now (a sobering thought in itself). I get 'phone calls like this:

"There's a problem with the booking system."

"What's up with it?"

"It's so slow we've lost the connection with it completely."

"Let's have a look... Yes, I'll need to report that to the help desk, it looks like there's a problem with the server. There's nothing I could expect you to do to try to solve the problem."

"So what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to report it to the help desk."

"Well what do I say to the people standing here wanting to go onto the PCs?"

Now what would you do chums?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Isn't this a strange conversation, for people who aren't crazy?

Browsing round Hannigan's Truss Boutique, with a mind to something for Mother's Day, I bump into Ken Barmy.

"Has he gone yet?" the bugger asks, knowing full well the answer.

"Not yet. Yours?"

"Nah. We're waiting for Jessie Norman to sing 'Hey Little Hen.'"

Some people are born optimistic.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's gone the way of trams and Reckitt's Blue

Truth be told I'm feeling a bit knackered and more than a bit down. It's not the nonsense with T.Aldous that's getting me down really, that's all very sad but at some stage he's going to let go and get on with the rest of his life. It's the others that bother me: I really don't think they realise, or want to realise, how vulnerable they and this service really are. Some of them are living in a cloud cuckoo land, imaging they can carry on with a 1960s delivery model on the grounds that they are librarians and have the protection of the 1964 Library Act. And some of the others are just too damned ignorant to realise the effects of their actions and inactions. And I'm not sure that I care enough to try and manoeuvre people into situations where they will be playing to their strengths. Besides, who died and made me God?

In my other self I've been writing a blog about library developments. It's got links to stuff I think are useful and/or interesting and commentaries on pieces of work I'm doing, all the type of stuff you'd expect from "a professional blog." I've been telling myself it's a way of keeping tabs with the various strands of work going on at the moment and making notes for future reference, and perhaps something for me to use as a "look, I can do stuff!" flag for future employment. Thinking about it, though, I can't help suspecting it's really just an effort to put enough positive spin onto my work to persuade me it's worth getting up out of bed and getting out to the office.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I shall send over a couple of pet beavers to romp with you

A bunch of paperback spinners have appeared in the dispatch room. Despite there being no money about. Seth is heaving to, moving boxes and wheelie bins out of the way so that the spinners may be accommodated.

"Where are these for?" I ask.

"I've no idea, and neither has anybody else," he replies.

"Nobody else?"

"'T.Aldous has got the list,' that's what they told me."

"Does it matter if T.Aldous has got the list? They're in charge now so they can go wherever they decide."

"Oh no. They can't go anywhere until somebody gets the list off T.Aldous, just in case they get it wrong."

T.Aldous is retired. He doesn't work here any more. He is a member of the public.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chairs XVII

With there being no money about and our not buying much in the way of new books we've actually been able to see an uncluttered corridor to the fire escape for only the third time in human memory.

Even those damned chairs have gone. I'd assumed that they'd gone out to their intended destinations.

How wrong could I be?

As I discovered when I had to go and check on the status of the network box in the utility room.

An orang-utan in a top hat is no great bargain

Fred Anonymous writes...

"Hi Kevin,

Our council had one of those equalities events the other week. You know the sort of thing: lots of folk get together in one place to be subjected to workshops and platitudes from the great and good. On balance they're a good thing as it gives some of the people who actually do things the chance to meet other people who actually do things and this network of useful contacts acts as a useful antidote to the Council Way Of Doing Things. If having to spend some time listening to patronising claptrap is the price to pay for such added value so be it.

A few folk from our library service went to it, including one of our senior managers. I found out today that he was doing a workshop on "delivering services electronically to the public." I only found out because he circulated the workshop notes. As I'm the only person in our service who actually is delivering services electronically to the public I was interested to find out what he had to say on the matter. I was a tad disappointed. We already knew that there were steps to the front door to one of our libraries. And that there aren't always enough People's Network PCs when the libraries are busy. And the signage could be better. But it's worth people reminding us, I suppose. What's remarkable about the whole thing is that the workshop doesn't seem to have covered anything about delivering services electronically to the public. At all.

Had I been consulted or involved I would have suggested that even our existing online services mean that customers don't have to be able to physically get to a library building during library opening times to receive library services. Which is a great boon for people who are time-poor due to family or caring commitments. And for housebound people. In fact, we could make a bit of a noise about the fact that some of our housebound customers search the web catalogue, place reservations on the items they want and the items are delivered to them by the housebound library service. We could explain about the ways that people can build their own reading lists, or use the online reading lists I've already created, to help them with their studies or literacy skills. Or reading lists for people working with people with special needs or who need help with their English literacy. And the online e-book resources we've been using to meet the needs of visually-impaired people wanting to study classic texts.

I would have said.

Ah fuck it. Ignore me, I'm forgetting the cardinal rule of the English public librarian: "what's the point of having an opportunity if you can't flush it down the lavatory before someone asks you to do something with it?"

Happy days.

I have no useful response to this, Fred. We both know the score: the real cardinal rule of the English public librarian is: Know Thy Place. Just don't let it get you down.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Design and construction remediation

Some of the machinery in the boiler room hasn't been serviced in the two decades we've been here. Seth's been trying to sort out a problem with it and rang the company for advice. Which they gave, free and gratis, and well done to them.

The engineer on the line asked when it was last serviced and was a bit shocked to find it never had been.

"There's not often any major problem but it's as well to have someone check it out once a year or so, just to be on the safe side."

So a service engineer came out. He look at the kit and scratched his head.

"This stuff's self-servicing. You shouldn't need anyone to come out."

Seth explained what he'd been told and then pointed out some of the problems he's been having to deal with. That was at nine this morning. The engineer's only just re-emerged from the gubbins, having spent all day sorting out a problem that he reckons wouldn't have happened if it had been serviced properly.

The problem is that we've all worked here so long that this makes sense to us.

Just like proper soldiers all in a row

This behaviour's actually disturbing...

T.Aldous has come in to tidy his office and has just spent half an hour rearranging the cutlery drawer in the staff room.

Just like Mary's, T.Aldous' retirement is dragging on with all the signs of can't-let-go-itis. Unlike Mary, who retired properly when she finally, eventually, actually retired, T.Aldous just cannot realise the moment has passed. It's taking on elements of low tragedy and it is a great pity.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Buffeted by fate

Maudie's been asked to check the availability of the community room for a section of the council that's been irritating us greatly. She is delighted to find that it's already been booked.

"That's the day of T.Aldous' buffet lunch."


"What buffet lunch?"

"Haven't you heard about it? I thought everybody had heard about it."

"Why are we having a buffet lunch for him at the end of April?"

"It might be his last day at work."

Monday, February 15, 2010

The rough knockabout sport of the working classes

Maybelle's fairly despondent about an important piece of work. Partly because it's another long-runner subjected to Mary and T.Aldous having done their "we've been offered £100, we'll ask for £50 and we'll spend £20" number on it. Mostly because she and Doreen had been getting stuck into it when a retired librarian stuck his oar in.

I've been being relentlessly positive at her and accidentally provoked a backlash.

"Not wanting to be rude or anything,"
she said. Which is her equivalent of my "with the greatest possible respect."

"When you and Milton get together for one of your meetings it must be like plaiting fog."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Playing the saxophone so loudly his whiskers vibrate

For the third time today Maisie is hunting down T.Aldous to tell him there's a telephone call for him.

"It's just like he's never been away," says Maisie.

Listening to the wireless

Sheep City has had a public wireless network installed. And just as quickly uninstalled. The conversation between Henry Irving and the Project Manager from the IT Section was succinct.

"The wi-fi connection's been down for a week."

"Yes. We switched it off."


"Members of the public were using it."

"Err... Yes. It's a public wireless network. That's what we asked you for."

"It needs filtering to stop people accessing porn. You can't be having people accessing porn in council buildings. I'll send you a quote for the work to be done."

"So you've provided us with unfiltered access to the web?"

"If the public are using it it needs to be filtered."

"I know it does. Didn't you realise that when we asked you to supply us with a public wireless network?"

"I'll send you the quote for the work."

Luckily for Henry he had this conversation two days before the payment for the original work was due to be cleared so he put the blocks on it. Which led to this conversation:

"I'm chasing up the payment on the invoice for the public wireless network."

"Good luck on that. When we get a public wireless network we'll see about paying for it."

"You can't do that!"

"I think you'll find that I have."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's a sin for a man to eat his food and cry at the same time

T.Aldous' frequent post-retirement guest appearances at the staff room table are not unprecedented.

A less-frequent, but more prolonged, ghost at the feat has been Tilly Floss. Every so often she'll meet up with Maisie and Betty for lunch and she'll pop in and say hello to everyone, which in itself is nice and friendly and what have you. Unfortunately, every so often she'll pop in, unannounced and park herself in the staff room for a warm while she's waiting for her bus. And eat her lunch, which she will have brought along with her "on the off-chance" she might be stopping.

Nearly three years ago she became a member of the public. The staff room is not a public area. People, many of whom don't know Tilly, leave their coats and bags and personal belongings here. And are surprised to come in for their lunch to find a stranger in their midst, unannounced and unheralded.

Questions have been asked of our managers.

"She's been doing it a long while. We can't doing anything about it now. Perhaps Maisie or Betty could have a word with her."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All the dangers of suburbia

The Post-Aldous Library Service is Terra Incognita, made the more nerve-wracking by the difficult times we find ourselves in. Whichever government is in power in the summer the council will still be skint; will still be closing down services; and will still be looking to save money, however wastefully. We're used to having the Library Service's budgets raided to pay for shortfalls elsewhere in the organisation, it's happened every year for a generation, but all the indications are that this time we're looking at serious cuts rather than trimmings-off.

We've been rather protected in the past by the fact of T.Aldous. While he hasn't been held in high regard within the council he has done a good job of attritional warfare over the years. On at least three occasions I know that Assistant Directors have approached the Library Service with a view to throwing the baby out with the bathwater and have given up, having had their heads completely done in by a mixture of irrational nit-picking and quite astute politicking. Unfortunately, this isn't a precision tool and collateral damage isn't unknown: Harry Presto was generally neutral-to-favourable about the Library Service but tried not to have anything to do with it if he could help it; Warner is an excellent departmental head but lately seems to have given up on the service in despair. This does us no good.

So the Post-Aldous Library Service is going to be dangerously interesting. If we ever get to see it...

We board the good ship Saucy Gibbon in ten minutes

"We have heard a rumour," sighs Noreen.

"Oh aye?" I prompt, trying not to sound too inquisitive.

"The reference librarians are having a meeting next week to discuss the standing orders list."

Oh joy.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Down time

T.Aldous is chatting with Betty.

"I'm coming in on a voluntary basis to tidy up a few loose ends. I'm not getting paid so I'm not coming in first thing at nine o'clock."

Maisie raises her eyebrows.

"Did you hear that?" she asks me. "He never got in at nine o'clock even when they were paying him!"

Spam javelin

Overheard in the staff room:

"Just think: what would be the chances of so many women in one room not having slept with Russell Brand or John Terry?"

"You mean you haven't?"

Monday, February 08, 2010

We're hanging by the lanyards

The council's Bobbing Up and Down team has been asking for volunteers for consultation groups for the new efficiency programme. I'm keeping a wide berth: it smacks a bit too much of asking turkeys to volunteer to Christmas dinner. Quite a lot of "the library service needs to be seen to be a team player" noises have been made and in the end Frog and Nancy have given in and signed up.

Apparently, a large part of today's meeting involved the facilitator's having to explain that this wasn't a turkeys for Christmas exercise. At some length.

The sincerity of purpose of the exercise is undermined somewhat by a printed summary of the conclusions of the discussion being handed out at the start.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Needing a more active pastime, like day-dreaming

I'm chatting with Ken Barmy and I told him of T.Aldous' parting words. Ken laughed himself silly.

"You're fucked, mate! Ours retired just after Christmas and is spending more time at work than when they paid her. Still has all the keys and everything. You can't even get a cup of tea without bumping into Banquo's ghost. You've got months and months and months of it to come."

Cheery soul.

Friday, February 05, 2010

End of an era

Well, that's been an interesting day.

It's been T.Aldous' retirement day. And by and large it's gone very well. We had the usual pot-luck brunch and people popped in and out of the place all day wishing T.Aldous well on his retirement. Then we had the traditional "get everyone together upstairs at the counter for to present somebody with their card and some flowers." (That bit took a few goes as he kept disappearing to mess around with the recycling bins or the booksale books.) And the gift we've all chipped in for will be presented to him at his official leaving do next week. All very nice.

The one cloud on the horizon was the final words of his accepting-my-retirement-card speech...

"As you know, I'm not one to let go easily."


Sometimes people provide so much too much information that it transcends the Yuk Factor and becomes almost lovely. Or at least dead funny.

Sybil was telling us about one of the caretakers at her old place who worked part-time as a life model for artists. She was also a bit too frank about her love life:

"One day we were sat there chatting when she told us that after her and her husband had had conjugal thingy she always 'tidied herself up with a freshly-laundered bit of muslin.'"

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Elephants and bicycle riders never forget

Frog is a tad nonplussed. He's been running two externally funded reading projects projects (Book Off and Booked If I Know) for the past couple of years. Up until Mary's retirement she held the purse-strings and had to approve all expenditure. Which is why there hasn't been much, as nearly all the ideas he had were "too expensive." He did manage a "very expensive" launch for the projects, involving a performance poet who offered a mad big discount because he enjoys coming over here, but aside from that, nada.

Frog's received a letter from the funding agency today asking why none of the money's been accounted for and asking for a statement of expenditure by 1st April. So he asked Maisie how much money was left uncommited in that budget...

If you see somebody driving a Maserati full of stuffed pink elephants you'll know where he's been working.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Hedging your bets

I'm on the bus to Grimley, going down Tench Road, when I noticed the name of the road that goes down by the car park to The Farmer's Lament.

Edge Lane Street.


Some places are worse than us by a long chalk.

A friend's been retired a couple of years now. He's had to stop having lunch with one of his old workmates as their Chief Librarian saw them together last week and gave the poor woman a formal reprimand when she returned to the office.

I had wondered why, one time I went to visit him, he insisted that we drive thirty miles out of town to meet his colleagues for lunch.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A walrus striking a nonchalent pose

The Head of Leisure is at the Town Hall giving a presentation on the council's new core corporate values.

"Dignity at the workplace is one of our foundation stones,"

he tells the hushed assembly. Stage whisper from the cheap seats:

"He's not actually worked in local government, has he?"

I told them you're a big game hunter

Project management at the work place:
  • Somebody asks the library service to do something. (Obviously, if somebody within the library service suggests that we need to do something then no further action is necessary.)
  • Policy Team members blather about it awhile in an inconsequential manner until one of them blinks. They are deemed to be Taking The Lead On The Project.
  • The piece of work is mentioned to somebody in passing
    • at the end of a long meeting about something else entirely that's got an action list a yard long; or
    • by the photocopier; or
    • by the door to the toilets.
    The work has now Been Delegated.
  • Some days, or weeks, later the same piece of work is mentioned in passing, in similar circumstances, to somebody else. A Project Team Has Been Set Up.
  • A chance conversation between the two people reveals:
    • they are supposed to be delivering a piece of work;
    • they are supposed to be delivering the same piece of work;
    The Project Has Been Scoped.
  • By pooling their resources and making a long sequence of educated guesses they find out that they have about 85% of the information required to try and make any progress.
    The Project Has Been Resourced.
  • Any attempt to make up the remaining 15% will be blanked because it requires a member of Policy Team to:
    • make a decision;
    • remember what the decision was; and
    • be prepared to be accountable for it.
    The Project Has Been Fucked.

"We'll be needing staff to take a lot more responsibility in the days ahead."

Monday, February 01, 2010

The first day you're content

It soon happens, doesn't it?

Posy waves a book under our noses.

"I've bought it for the staff library. It's a really good introduction to working in the modern library service."

It's a copy of "Workhouse Life In Helminthdale."

Let's spend the night together

Chronic insomnia is one of the Sunday night rituals. All the rest of the week the pillows on my bed are cosy and friendly. On Sunday nights I might as well be trying to doss down on a granite breakwater.

This morning, at a quarter to four, I woke up with a start from a dream about having a panic attack at work, only to discover that I was starting to have a panic attack about work. I don't know why. It's not as if it's any worse than usual. It's been awful in the past. Every evidence suggests that it's going to be awful in the future. But at the moment it's just mightily irritating, endlessly dispiriting and intolerably wearisome. There's no good reason for my getting worked up about it.