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

Friday, May 28, 2010

A bit like a bidet: you don't know what it is but it adds a touch of class

Some people are right up there at the cutting edge of electronic reference librarianship some people are.

Not us. We're still ripping up railings for to make Spitfires.

Maybelle's covering up in the reference library for reasons which elude me. She's just had a customer query which she knows can be answered using one of the online reference services we subscribe to. Unfortunately, the password's changed and she doesn't know it. So she has a look around the desk, in the desk, on the PC and then, finally and desperately, in the Red & Black notebook that passes as the Reference Librarians' Vademecum. No luck whatever. So she has to ring Eileen.

"Hi Eileen. Sorry to disturb you during your break but I need a password to log onto..."
It was in the Red & Black notebook.

Under W for "Web sites."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On a clear day you could see the fog

One hundred years ago today...

I don't know how on earth we're running the ship this week, and we're nowhere near Summer Holiday Hell yet.

Super, wonderful, marvellous, terrific

"Have you got staff available to support the school holiday activities?" asks Frog.

"That's something your team needs to sort out," replies Doreen.

Doreen's empire encompasses the 47 staff involved and the libraries they work in. Frog's "team" is himself and his telephone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Your cubits are getting verst, Mrs. Smedley

The past few weeks have been punctuated by people popping into the office armed with tape measures. We have no idea what they're up to as it's a bit early in the season for us to have grown the council's biggest marrow.

"Perhaps they're measuring the space in between management indecisions," suggested Sybil.

Monday, May 24, 2010

We've got two taps marked "Hot" and "Cold" but one of them's a liar

Well, that's a novelty. There's now a confidential waste bin in the gents' lavatory.

Rebellious as ever, I choose to employ the usual facilities.

Representing the cultural DNA of the nation

We hear that there's going to be some tarting up of the reference library. The enquiry desk and the shelves along the long wall are going to be replaced and they're 'repurposing the business library section.' which we hope is code for chucking out those Balkan trade directories they bought that time. And who knows, perhaps even using some of the computers to provide access to some of the online companies information services we've bought into.

Work starts in a couple of weeks, apparently.

"Have they started sorting stuff out so that they're ready for the big move-around?" I ask Seth.
Seth does a good withering glance and I deserved every inch of it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Between the unpalatable and the disastrous

There is a lot I have been holding back from this blog lately. There always was: there are some things which are just not appropriate for publication. And I've always played fast and lose with names, places and chronologies. But there are things that are just not safe to discuss, especially as we are in 'interesting' times, and that's well before we even start to see the effects of the change in national government. Indeed, even before we factor in the council's calamitous financial state (there is talk of applying for a loan from Burkina Faso).


So I'll be helpful. And I'll watch my back. And I'll be careful. Like most everyone else has to be these days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Riding the audit trail with Gene Autrey

Jack Harry potters over to Bronwyn's desk.
"I've had a report to say that four invoices were paid late."
"Oh. Let's check them with Noreen to see what happened. If it was a long part-order there might have been a problem with getting it reconciled with the order."
"Which four invoices are they?" asks Noreen.
"I don't know. Does it matter?" asks Jack Harry.
"It does if you want to know what happened to them."
"Can't you tell from the system?"
"Can't you tell from the report?"
"These are the invoice numbers," says Jack Harry, passing over a slip of paper.
"Ah yes," says Noreen. "Let's have a look... Ah yes. They were just small invoices, the biggest one just had ten titles. We got them processed the day they arrived."
"So why were they paid late?"
"It took six days for you to sign the authorisation slip."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Peekaboo! I can't see you
Everything must be grand

Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) continues to impress. Amongst the gems so far this week are:
"We don't have to do a business plan this year, so you'll know our business priorities."

"No we don't manage the resource base of the library service. Though we could empower you to control those resources if we wanted to."

"You shouldn't be asking us to provide a lead on whole service development priorities. What's the point of us having specialist officers if they won't take responsibility?"
And the perennial favourite:
"I'm not going round asking people if there are any problems. There are more than enough problems as it is without going looking for them."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Knife and tweezers

A strange day.

None of the clocks at work are right. The musical clock by Frog's desk played 'Dardanella' and chimed thirteen. It was five to ten in the morning.

We received a corporate communiqué telling us that
  1. We were busier than ever. With three exclamation marks.
  2. There will be a wide range of exciting events in our libraries this month. With one exclamation mark.
  3. Staff morale is good and we all feel engaged in the corporate march to perfection. With a full stop.
A Library Assistant accused me of Doublespeak because I objected to a customer being referred to as a bookworm.

An email invited me to a seminar on protecting public e-services by outsourcing.

On the bus home I did the Clockword puzzle in the Metro.

The answer was "Winston Smith."

I shan't sleep tonight.

Friday, May 14, 2010

There's something about the dead, lifeless eyes the waxwork just can't capture

My God, is it only Friday? I thought it was at least November.

What can we say? It's all just business as usual really. Half our libraries are off-line because of a faulty network switch at Umpty. Roadkill Library would ring us to let us know he network's down there, too, except that their 'phone is voice over IP and goes down with the rest of the network. What's online might as well be off- given the amount of use we're getting of it ("busier than ever!") Members of Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) periodically emerge blinking into the Spring sunlight like so many chartered tortoises and mingle amongst the milling minions just long enough to drop pieces of work into people's laps and then run away. There is talk of reorganisation of departmental heads and senior managers. And of library closures. And of why there won't be any library closures. And that there is no money about. And that there will be a massive programme of new municipal buildings to turn each any every one of the old county boroughs into Pennine scale models of Karnak and Heliopolis.

A missive or epistle from the Town Hall says that the Bobbing Up & Down Team are looking at alternative governance models for the council's services. Including worker co-operatives effected by senior management buy-out and devolution of powers.

I waste so many cups of tea that way...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I can see that I'm going to have to watch myself round here

"I'm starting to get cynical," I admitted.

"Get cynical?" snorted Lippy.

"What do you mean?"

"You've not got a good word for the Lunatic Legion."

"I have several good words for them, I just choose not to use them at the moment."

"You see!"

"I have complete faith in them."

"You what?"

"I know that they are completely business-focussed and that they can be relied upon to have planned each and every step of the way, including factoring in all the contingencies that may befall us, and that those same preparations will make it easy for us to just seamlessly engage with the business development process to an inevitably successful conclusion."

"You are such a liar!"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pictures at an exhibition

I bump into Ken Barmy bulk-buying WD40 for the weekend.

"How's things?" I ask.

"It's like the last days of the Stasi....

"I was nipping out to see a brown friend off to the sea when I found the caretakers in the corridor, shredding the paperwork from the files that had been stored in the ladies' toilet. How fucking disgraceful is that?

"If we were being ecologically sound they'd have cut them into squares and hung them on a nail in the bog. There's not a lot in the management minutes of 1991 to startle the needy arsehole."

Written in the old money by unfortunates

There is a bit of a domestic going on at the moment, with no-holds-barred intergalactic sulking going on between Julia and Doreen on the one hand and Norma on the other. It's a finely-balanced battle with dishonours equal to date.

Objectively the argument has to go in Doreen's favour. She's Norma's boss and has told her that a couple of things need doing at Windscape Library because, well they've needed doing for years. Norma has decided that This Is Not Necessary, like
the Health & Safety Risk Assessments. Doreen has issued an almost "Just Fucking Do It," which prompted Norma to go whingeing to Julia.

This is where it all goes pear-shaped. Julia decided that this was an opportunity to Show Who Is The Boss.

Norma's counter-offensive is based on "I've been doing this job for years." Which is true enough: Norma's contract of employment is etched in Ogham script on the lintel of the porch to the library.

It looks to be getting nasty, with loads of opportunity for widespread collateral damage. Tin hats at the ready everyone!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Quintessence of Parochialism

We're doing some stock development work with a few other library authorities and to help it along some of us have bought into an online service that does a lot of the hard work for us. One of our colleagues wants to join in the purchase but is having problems caused by their Executive Procurement Unit, who says:

"Council policy is that we do not purchase directly from companies based in foreign countries."

The company's head office is in Glasgow.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Imagination is intelligence with an erection.

I am discussing a couple of Things To Be Done with Maybelle, who has drawn the short straw and has become Policy Team (this week)'s designated Person What Does Things. Part way through she suddenly made a couple of connections between ideas and came up with Something That Should Be Done If We Had The Sense We Were Born With.

"That's a bloody good idea," I concede, "should we ask the Lunatic Legion if we can push it through?"

"Let's not," replies Maybelle firmly. "It's a very nice idea. Why would I want to watch somebody kill it?"

As worn as the palms of a bored monkey

I've spent the morning in a meeting about a programme that's none of my business. (Well, you know how it is when you're bored and you find a party you can gate-crash.) I left it feeling old and dejected.

It's a subject I know a bit about and have practical experience with and I used to care about it deeply. Ten years ago I would have been chipping in there like a terrier, chasing every key issue like it was a rat smeared with aniseed. I would have had a note book filled with ideas and cross-references to pieces of work we were already doing, with notes to try and connect the players involved. My notes for the morning are:

Possibly? See if Jim knows about this one.
no, but we should
bollocks to that one matey
check emails from C___________
the next person who mentions 'channel shift' will be required to provide a definition

Which isn't inspiring.

Looking round the table I felt yet more old and tired and jaded. There were but a couple of us left in middle age. We nodded over coffee and compared battle scars. The enthusiasm of youth around the table was uninfectious. Earnest and knowledgeable enough, all freshly-scrubbed and with clean collars and brand new Helix pencil cases (though I noticed that one girl from the Strategic Management Support Team had 'I love PRINCE2' scrawled in biro on hers). I wondered if I weren't becoming even more jaded than I pretend to be. Perhaps I am. Perhaps. More dispiriting is the realisation that for all the talk about customer engagement and performance and delivery the major change in local government over the past twenty years has been a shift of focus away from the services we provide towards the processes of the ticking of boxes. All the talk this morning was about the machinery of bureaucracy and the needs of the machine.

You might like to bear this in mind some time when you're really in a hurry and the person serving you has to break off, answer the 'phone and ignore you awhile so as to meet the council's mystery shopper response time targets.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

All over bar the pouting

All the votes have been counted and every ward accounted for, we now have the official results for both our national and local political representatives and everything's now the same but different.

In many respects the general election is the less important locally. Helminthdale has failed to prosper under governments of so many stripes and ambitions as to make no difference in that respect. The passing of the baton from home party to another just means that one faction in the local media will divert its bile from the council to the MP, while the other faction moves its darker attentions onto the council. In times gone past, councillors who were making a nuisance of themselves by "growing too big for the council" would be shunted off out of the way to Westminster but that sort of thing has gone the way of so many fine old English traditions.

Just as locally this is a three-way marginal, all three parties are involved in close-fought battles for the parliamentary constituencies. The Green Party once flirted with standing for Helminthdale Central & Catty but felt a deep sense of redundancy on finding the town centre already reverting to its wilderness state. It is heartening, though, to discover that the chappie who stood as an "Independent English Nationalist" because "the BNP is too mainstream these days" lost his deposit. There is some hope in the world after all.

Locally there is a shift in power, though we're not sure where it's going. Any combination of political groups could, and have over the years, get together as a "this is not a coalition, we are just working together for the good of the borough," the key dependency being "which leader of which party is the most hated?" If enough elected members hate you then they'll band together and run the council for a bit. Of course, given the fluid nature of the local politic, plus factionalism and a tendency to be "independent minded," all bets are off as to whether or not anything gets voted through.

One thing's for sure: there isn't any money about and there won't be any extra coming in, regardless of who gets into Number 10. The council's credit rating is right up there with Greece and we have a business income stream that makes Tristan da Cuhna look like Las Vegas on a roll. Cue lots more consultants' reports, strategic meetings and job cuts in front-line services.

Business as usual really.

Pip pip!

Friday, May 07, 2010

They'll have to decommission handbags

A week without T.Aldous confirms our worst fears.

He's been the only management presence in this office for months.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A garden of troubadours

Not for the first time I wonder if we had the Chuckle Brothers in as consultants to do our management process modelling.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

This question is rhetorical

What sort of person leaves a turd on the back seat of a bus?

On the plus side, it engendered a robust sense of community amongst the passengers crowded at the front of the bus.

We don't do sarcasm...


"There's nowt like being a valued cog in the machinery of the library service."

"Aye. You can't walk but three steps without tripping over some bit of positive reinforcement."

Leader-of-men-type fanny

A correspondent writes:

I've just had the 'the time to tell me what Year End statistics you want collecting and how is March, not the end of April' conversation with a senior manager. He flummoxed me by exclaiming:

"I'm not a mind-reader. How was I to know you didn't know what I wanted you to do?"

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's topsy-turvey day

In the course of a short chat between me and Maybelle to try and rescue a project of hers I said:

"We need to keep focused on this project and not get side-tracked by the possibilities."

and she said:

"We haven't defined the parameters of this piece of work yet."

One, other, or both of us needs a holiday.

Clouds of blue and skies of white

Those of you who work in large organisations will know what fresh hells lurk in the words "senior management away day."

  • On the plus side those of us left behind can get on with our work unruffled by being on the receiving end of any sort of leadership. Or business as usual if you will.
  • On the minus side there's nobody around who can sign invoices, authorise orders or take responsibility for the goings on of the place. Or business as usual.
But far, far worse: they will be doing some Blue Skies Thinking and conjuring up a few Quick Wins.

Were Joyce Grenfell alive today she would be doing monologues in the role of workshop facilitator...

"Well now, boys and girls, what shall we do today? No, Marjorie, we did the seven hats game yesterday. And do you remember what we did with the green one? That's right. And we did Forming Storming Norming Performing didn't we? Yes, Jessica, I know you've still got the bruises. I don't think George meant to be quite so rough, did you George? Well you shouldn't have. Because I say so. I'm not going to argue with you about it. Because.

"Today we're going to come up with some quick wins for service development. Won't that be jolly? Yes it will Jessica. It will be awfully jolly. Oh, Jessica, don't be such a crosspatch; you like being a team player. Well you did yesterday. That was before George stormed into you. I know dear, he can be a bit boisterous but you... no you don't need to, no don't. I think it might be an idea if you were to sit over here with Marjorie and Dennis and George can sit over here with Tarquin and Emily. Because I say so. George... don't do that.

"So now we're going to come up with some quick wins for service development. I want each of you to have a think and say the first thing that comes into your head..."

Which is all well and good in the workshop environment. It doesn't matter that the quickness of the win is untested in terms of legality, the availability of resources or the fact that the person who says that "there's an app for that" is the person who blows all the fuses in the building every time they switch their PC on. It's a thinking process exercise.

Except they never are. They bundle back, all enthusiastic and full of biscuits with the one, fixed, firm notion: the quick win must be delivered. Regardless of whatever else is going on; the business priorities of the moment; or the availability or not of the people assumed to be the ones who'll deliver on it (quick wins are never to be delivered by the people who dream them up, strange that). "We said we would deliver the quick win."


With any luck they'll have had a row about who gets to sort out T.Aldous' filing cabinet and won't have had any time to get to the quick fix round of the game before going home time.