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

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...