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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

She's been out all night frightening policemen

A customer has been into the library raising Cain and spitting feathers about the book she'd just read.

"Filth," she snapped at Norma. "Absolute filth. What have you got to say about it."

"Well.. The Library Service doesn't write the books, we only buy them."

"Fancy wasting the taxpayer's money on filth like that. Disgraceful. Who do I complain to about this."

"You're doing a very good job of complaining to me about it, but if you want you can fill in one of our customer feedback forms and I'll make sure it gets given to the right person for them to reply to you."

"Hmpf. Well. I suppose that's good enough."

"Can I help you with anything else?"

"Have you anything else by the same author?"

Monday, June 28, 2010


I usually complain that Library Staff don't have a good word for me. Not today. After discussing a particularly long-standing problem at Epiphany Library (so long-standing and tortuous a problem that neither I nor Thelma could remember or work out why the problem ever arose in the first place) she said to me:

"Well I've got a good word for you: Snafu."

I'll get her at playtime.

Basically, in a word, would you sell your house to a gorilla?

Seth's been mostly working by himself since Alwyn retired last month. He wants to be able to take some days off. He's not directly employed by us, he's part of the council's Land & Buildings Management Agency so he has to ask them to provide cover for his absence. And they generally say that nobody's available because half the staff were laid off a couple of years ago in one of the council's efficiency drives. (Being a council efficiency drive, the savings in staff salaries are more than offset by essential overtime payments and building project over-runs.)

Today he got a 'phone call. They had found somebody who could provide some cover.
"If you send that bloke here he'll be going home in a body bag," advised Seth.

"You don't want him, then?" asked the supervisor.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Changing rooms

There are times when Eileen baffles me. She is not unintelligent and can be quite industrious and has a good understanding of electronic information issues. She just isn't especially productive and is astonishingly conservative and set in her ways.

They're playing musical chairs up in the reference library at the moment, shifting all the shelving round and making some space for group learning. The most difficult parts of the process are the moving of the enquiry desk, so that it's actually easy for the customers to get to, and the daily newspapers (they've been told that they should let the customers read them).

Seth's scheduled to move the desk this morning, ready for the usual Friday afternoon rush (unless they're both watching the tennis).

"I'm just going to move your desk," he told Eileen.

"Right-o, I'll get out of your way then."

"Erm... Aren't you moving all the crap off the top of the desk first?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, there's all that scrap paper. And the newspapers you've put there this morning. And all them boxes you were supposed to be getting shut of last month. And why is there a pile of pencils?"

"Customers might ask for a pencil."

"Can you move it please?"

"I'm busy at the moment, can it wait a bit?"

"Busy doing what?"

"I've got to stamp these newspapers."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The bell started ringing to mourn for poor Bessie

Local councils all over the country are laying waste to front line services with swingeing cuts earnestly looking for efficiencies and Helminthdale should be no different. The fact that the last time good times rolled in Helminthdale was when the Prince of Wales was asking Victoria if she hadn't finished with that throne yet makes it a bit of a challenge.

So we are being Consulted For Ideas. This is, of course, part of the government's Big Idea for Big Society: we are all invited to suggest ideas for savings and then the government does what KPMG and Ernst & Young tell them to do. All frightfully democratic and that. [Pauses to wave flag, wipe eye with onion and shout "Ingerland!"]

Maisie's having a day off and Maudie's rushed off her feet servicing the Lyons Corner House that should be the upstairs reading room (the Education Department's Management Team have borrowed it for a meeting and somehow this requires Maudie to ply them with tea and biscuits ad lib.) I've been picking up a lot of their calls and it strikes me that there's a very simple saving we could and should be saving...

Nearly all the calls involve people asking me to leave messages for Maisie or Maudie to let them know that something's been done. The bloke's fixed the tiles on the roof at Windscape Library. The plumber's sucked his teeth at Catty Library. The van driver has delivered the box of stationery he delivers every Thursday to Umpty Library. These are all external telephone calls. All would have interrupted one or other of the girls while they were trying to concentrate on sorting out any one of a million problems that are created for them. And every single one of them would have been better done as an email for free to be dealt with as and when necessary.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Illuminated parchments

More madness from the council offices on Pottersbury Road. Just to put our loonies into perspective...

"Our first customer on Tuesday morning reported that a naked man pulling his piece was wandering around outside his house the evening before. The customer reported this to the police but no one came (except the naked man maybe?). Suffice to say the customer then continued to report that his neighbour awoke the next morning to discover the same man stretched across his 6 month old car stark naked with a light bulb in his mouth! The girl on the desk kept a perfectly straight face during all this except when she asked: "can you tell me when he was pulling his todger with the light bulb in his mouth…. Did it flash?"

"This is absolutely true. You couldn’t make it up could you?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A lot of Eastern promise behind that faint tang of cocoa

One of 'those' corporate communications conversations...

In retrospect it may have been a bit strong to call the staff consultation process as tool of Stalinist oppression.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Cup Willies

An edict from the Chief Executive. Staff are invited to watch the England match on Wednesday on a big screen in the Presentation Room of the Town Hall.

It's academic for those of us providing services to the public but it's still engendered some controversy, with the camps evenly matched. On the one hand are those who see it as a way of managing potential absenteeism, with the opportunity to foster a bit of team spirit as a happy by-product.

On the other are those who think that in times of swingeing "efficiencies" the signing-in book would be the draft copy of the roll call of Those Who Probably Wouldn't Be Missed.


Ah well...

At least we know the heating still works in this building.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Got the T-shirt

A gem from the always-excellent "Not Always Right" site.

He liked anything he thought "progressive"

It's been a funny week.

Typified, perhaps, by my finding myself responding to a request for "efficiencies" by arguing for a Semantic Web Librarian.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A bit like the DVD extended edition

'Phone call from Eileen in the Reference Library.

"A gentleman wants to know if he can download some software so that he can run a programme on his USB stick."

"Has there been any time in the past decade where we've let customers download and run programmes on our PCs?"


...So what should I tell him."

"Sorry, no you can't?"


I have this conversation with her once a fortnight.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Poetry woven into the general consciousness

More gems from our reference library. You'll need to bear in mind that:

(a) We are a small public library service somewhere in the North of England;
(b) We are not a research library;
(c) We are many miles from the sea; and
(d) This is the 21st Century.

So this is a selection of what we have proferred as being current and accurate information for the lay public. I include publication dates for further enlightenment.
2nd Report Of The Committee: A Comparison Of Transition Temperatures   1960
Determined By Small And Large Scale Tests On Five Steels
Brief History Of The National Gallery Of Scotland 1961
Chance For Charities? Distributing The Proceeds Of The National 1993
Lottery To Charitable Organisations
Draft Agreement Between The Government Of The United Kingdom Of Great 1984
Britain And Northern Ireland And The Government Of The People'S
Republic Of China On The Future Of Hong Kong
Guide To Parliament And What Your Mp Does 1997
Guide To The Loading And Unloading Of Fishing Vessels Regulations 1988 1988
Language For Life: The N.U.T'S Commentary On The Bullock Report 1976
National Minimum Wage: Report Of An Inter Departmental Working Party 1969
New Training Initiative: A Programme For Action 1982
The Work And Organisation Of The Legal Profession 1989
Tourism In The UK: Realising The Potential 1992
Trade Unionism: A Basic Guide 1978
Training For Community Care: A Joint Approach 1991
Bayonets: An Illustrated History And Reference Guide 1968
British Lighthouses 1947
Cameras Photographs And Accessories 1966
Conservative Manifesto 1979 1979
Going Into Hospital 1988
How To Conduct An Election By The Single Transferable Vote 1976
Make The Difference: The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 1997 1997
Meeting The Challenge In Europe: Labour'S Manifesto For The European 1989
Elections 1989
New Directions: The Path To A Green Britain Now, General Election 1992
Campaign Manifesto 1992
Surveying: Instruments And Methods 1968
Future Shape Of Local Government Finance 1971
National Blood Transfusion Service 1976
National Curriculum: A Survival Guide 1989
Nomenclature Of The Hominidae: Including A Definitive List Of Named 1965
Hominid Taxa

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You come out humming the floodlights

Posy is a hard worker, has a kind heart and is boundlessly enthusiastic. But there are some days when she can do the full-on 100% 24-carat Calum Gilhooley and today is one of those days. And unfortunately, I didn't start off in the most patient frame of mind.

Salvation of a sort came to hand. Somebody said in a loud, firm voice:

"Look, can we stop now? For the past four and a half hours we have had nothing but how boring is the sound of vuvuzelas, that they're the instruments of Satan, that they sound cheap and nasty and how you're sick of the sound of vuvuzelas. Now can we put it back in the box and get on with some work please?"

I looked around the office to see who it was.

It was me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Getting out just short

Helminthdale is on tenterhooks. Even before the announcement of Ooh, We Shall All Be In Pain Together the balance sheet wasn't looking any too healthy and those of us already scheduled for 12% pay cuts before the economy turned sour were detailed to have a look to see where wholesale panic-driven cuts could be made sensible efficiencies could be effected. It has all turned a bit more urgent now: there's a mad dash to get expenditure approved before the "Emergency" Budget and we've got to come up with explanations as to how cutting all the crusts off the sandwiches will make for a better economy. And of course none of it will affect front-line services adversely.

So Helminthdale shivers. The council and National Assistance are the borough's main economic drivers. If the spending power of council staff and the long-term unemployed is diminished God knows how the local private sector will survive.

Fun with hydrangeas

Not a good start to the week. Between the England match on Saturday; John Redwood's blathering on about replacing public library staff with volunteers; the latest Honours List (not so much as an OBE between us); the rain pouring in at Catty Library again; and half the staff being on diets this is not a happy ship.

No doubt we can look to our fearless leaders to provide a morale shift.
"Fecking hell," says Sybil.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It can happen to anyone and I know it will get worse

It's been a funny week...

I'll admit to engineering the meeting between Frog, Bronwyn, Maybelle and Nancy that came up with a set of proposals which we now know chime pretty well with something the council has decided that Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) have to do.

And I encouraged the meeting between Posy and Henry that seems to have given Posy some useful ideas. And suggested a few questions some other people could ask in meetings. And helped a couple of people paint their managers into a corner so that they had to give a 'yes or no' answer to the question: "are we doing this?" And asked a couple of innocent questions that will have repercussions in about six months' time.

It was Frog's idea to drag Bronwyn and Posy out to the Monkey's for lunch. Bronwyn was a bit stressed after trying to sort something out with the reference library and a different aspect of the same something with Jack Harry (essentially, putting her foot down and telling two people over whom she has no authority that neither of them is getting their own way, without using the words "lazy," "idiotic," "hidebound" or "pillock," for which she has my utmost respect). It was a good idea: over lunch Bronwyn solved the Doreen Problem for them. I had to laugh: most of our service development and project planning is done over lunch at the Monkey's.

Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) thanked me for not shouting at them in a meeting on Wednesday. I thanked them for not giving me anything to get cross about.

As Maybelle and I were talking our way around another set of problems somebody had created for her and Bronwyn I stopped in mid-sentence.

"Who died and made me God?" I asked.

"You worry about that far too much you know," she replied.

Perhaps I do.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It all fits, if you see what I mean

Maybelle's pissed off. Frog and I are naturally concerned so we force her to have some chocolate biscuits. One of her projects has stalled. It's a piece of work she's supposed to be doing; the Library Service wants her to do; the partner agency supplying the funding wants her to do it; she wants to do it; and the people she's working with want to do it.

It just needs rubber-stamping by the someone in authority in the Library Service.

Frog and I give her permission to carry on. If there's any sulking from on high about it someone can talk to us about it.

"Can you do that?" asks Maybelle.

"We've been told to take more responsibility," we reply as one.


Staff World Cup Sweepstake. We all have to take part.

I didn't know the Vichy Republic was still affiliated to FIFA.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Primitive man at his breakfast

I'm so glad this was sombody else...

Stand up row in doorway involving somebody paid quite a lot and an underling.

"You just bear in mind: I'm in charge here, not you!"

"I'm glad you told me. I hate secrets."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Bumper crop of mushrooms pleases the army

Librarians Being Busy...

The librarians at a library which will go nameless (Catty Library) are forever telling us that they are far, far too busy to do near enough anything they're asked to do.

Henry was over there this morning and noticed that a pile of books in the Local History Collection had been missed in last year's attempt to make this collection onto the catalogue. He suggested that they should be boxed up and sent over to Sheep City and he'd do the honours and then get them returned. Had they any boxes?
"I can't box them up," said Mimsie, "I'm too busy. You'll have to ask Annie."

Henry had a chat with Annie, who was willing to box them up because she's Not A Professional, but couldn't get into the cellar to get the boxes. Mimsie had the key.

Mimsie couldn't open the cellar door so's Annie could get the boxes as the caretaker's been made redundant on the grounds that the caretaker in the Housing Office next door could do both buildings. So she went next door, found the caretaker, got him to accompany her down to the cellar, opened up, showed him where the boxes were, watched him take them upstairs, locked the doors and went back up to tell Annie where the boxes could be found.

"Next time, I'll remember to take my own fucking boxes," muttered Henry.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The equivalent of having your legs firmly shackled in a mangle

There's nobody officially in charge at Helminthdale Central Library today unless it happens to be me or Frog. Posy's theoretically in charge this week but she's been press-ganged into being the responsible adult at Umpty Library today.

This despite Verity and Pansy being on site all day. Verity and Pansy run two of our busiest branch libraries but Julia has decreed that Umpty Library cannot be without A Professional. Unlike all the other libraries in the borough, including Helminthdale Central which is three times busier than Umpty.


I know the council's on its uppers but this is ridiculous...

A bloke's just been in to measure all the windows. Given that the council owns nearly all the buildings in town that still have windows left in them I can't see a Window Tax being a nett money-spinner.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

You could see what the monkey saw in her

Daisy Duck is made up:

"I saw T.Aldous in the Spanners' Arms last night. I made him spill his drink."


"I told him you wished he was still in charge in the library!"

Saturday, June 05, 2010

There's always someone worse off than yourself

A colleague sends me a photograph of a huge mound of tatty old reference books and assorted magazines. A football pitch-sized huge mound of tatty old reference books and assorted magazines.

He has been stock-editing his reference library.

It has not been done in the thirty-odd years before he took over. I assumed the figure half-buried by old copies of the Nursing Times was for illustrative purposes but it turns out not to be so. One of the Reference Librarians helpfully told a customer that they had 'just the thing' for a particular enquiry and that it had been sent for recycling but was easy to retrieve.

Another colleague writes:

"I've been heartily amused by a staff consultation exercise our council's got on the go at the moment. We're in the midst of a whole-council cross-departmental cuts and efficiencies review. It reported to Council last week for decision, as yet unknown. This is the point at which they launch the staff consultation exercise.

"'What efficiencies do you think the council could achieve?" it asks. And gives you 100 characters' space in which to respond.

"Best yet: throughout the survey it was at pains to say that it was an anonymous staff survey. The final questions? Your date of birth, your gender and the section you work for!"
Another colleague has had fun:

"Our mobile library driver's off sick this week and we've got a relief driver. I had to accompany him on the van. 'Oh good, I've got a dolly bird!" he said, cheeky sod. Just after lunchtime we had a bit of an accident.
"'I think I've clipped that car's wing mirror,' he said.

"I got out and had a look. Clipped? He'd annihilated it. And the front bumper and front panel. And caved the offside door in. Bloody hell! After ringing in to report the accident I was told we should take the van back to the depot to make sure it was OK.

"'When was the accident?' asked the fleet manager.

"'We crashed into the car at 1.45, we knocked over the railings at 2.05 and we knocked over all those dustbins at quarter past two,' I told him.

"'By gum, you're efficient!' said the driver.

"It's not my turn with him tomorrow, thank God!"

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I did what I could with me gas mask

It's a nice warm sunny day in Helminthdale so of course the air conditioning isn't working. The heating, however, is. We have a maintenance contract for the heating but not the air conditioning. We didn't used to have a heating contract but about a decade ago there was an incident involving T.Aldous, Reggie Clockwatcher and a sulking match and the union had to step in to point out the terms of the shops acts. So we have a heating maintenance contract. The acts don't stipulate a legal highermost temperature so we don't have to have an air conditioning maintenance contract. We have on occasion been able to invoke the Health & Safety at Work Act to get temporary palliatives (this usually involved T.Aldous sending Maisie out to buy fans out of petty cash) but no actual solution. Which is one of the reasons why this open-plan office sounds like the consumptives' ward in a Victorian hospital.

As it happens, the heating engineer was over this morning to check the filters. He noticed it was a bit warm and stuffy so he rang the air-conditioning company to ask how to fix the problem. After a few minutes' worth of conversation the engineer passed the 'phone over to Seth.

"Here, you have a go, I can't make head nor tail of it."

"Well," protested Seth, "if you can't make head nor tail of it what makes you think I'll do any better."

"I'm the heating engineer, I've no idea how your air-con plant works."

Anyway, between them they seem to have had a go at something. The air's no cooler but it feels a little less stale now.

Dying puts a gloss on them they never had in life

We've had a 'Most Haunted' moment in the staff room with Mystic Mug.

"I'm getting a message from the other side. Does the name 'Agatha Christie' mean anything to anybody? Ooh... Ooh... I'm getting in touch with my familiar..."

"You do that dearie. We'll sit here and eat your biscuits."

"I'm getting something very firm now... [Do you get the impression that somebody besides me has all the episodes of 'Round The Horne' on CD?] I've pierced the veil... Oh, it's a message from our fearless leaders."

"Ooh! What do they say?"

"They say... they say... 'I was on leave that week.'"

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

More pockets than balls

What a day.

The good news is that both Group Librarians are on leave, which leaves every library in the borough leaderless and rudderless, which is pretty much business as usual really. Luckily, most of the front-line staff (even the ones you'd want to shout at) know the business inside and out and can make a better fist of trying to deliver a service without having to deal with the drama du jour. The management of the service seems to benefit also: to my certain knowledge there have been three decisions made today.

Where it all falls down, as per bloody usual, is procedure and resources. If something goes amiss at one of the libraries the only people who can authorise spending from the appropriate cost codes is the Group Librarians. Presumably, they also have control of whatever budgets we're using to pay for the extra hours of casual staff we're not allowed to be using any more.

It's as well that we are (presumably) paying for the extra staffing because we are really at the edge this week. Helminthdale Central Library, the borough's flagship, was scheduled to be staffed by one library assistant and Frog. Except that the library assistant was also scheduled to be working at Epiphany Library, same as usual on a Tuesday. Posy, who is the only Assistant Librarian in this half of the borough, spent all last week covering for library assistants at Senebene, Milkbeck and Spadespit libraries and is this week covering for Maybelle, Doreen and the vacancy that was Salome's old job whilst also filling in at Catty Library.

Posy's also pissed off with Frog because Doreen told her to arrange entertainers for an event at Senebene Library and that Frog would pay for it. This came as news to Frog, who has just enough money to pay for the Summer Reading Game and perhaps two reading events in the Autumn if nobody raids the budget.

Dorothy was sent out to run at Spadespit Library only to find that the Saturday Assistant who'd come into provide support wasn't allowed a key to the library. Luckily, Hattie had been there on Saturday and was in Helminthdale Central long enough this morning to put the keys back in the box, so there was a set that Dorothy could come back to pick up. I think Hattie ended up at Cattermole Street Library in the end.

There was also a bit of a to-do because there wasn't anyone available to do children's story time upstairs on Thursday because Posy's scheduled to be doing it at Milkbeck and Frog, who was assumed by somebody to be available to do it but hadn't been asked, can't do it because it would have been his day off in recompense for having come in last Saturday to do a children's event that nobody else wanted to do was available for to do but he's had to come in anyway to do a family literacy event nobody else was available for either.

I was asked if I fancied driving the mobile library on Thursday. I gracefully declined.

I think we should sit here very quietly until it's time to go home

Great God this is an awful place.