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

Friday, July 30, 2010

Watch the birdie

We're looking at some photos of children's library events.

"Who's that?" asks Frog.

"That's Dagmar," I reply.

"That's terrible," he said.

"What is?"

"I didn't recognise her because she's smiling."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stains on my notebook

I bump into an old colleague from another life. We've not seen each other for years; I have the sense not to tell her she looks stunning. We got talking and I asked after her family. She was extremely worried about her eldest:

"He's dropped out of uni. and become a beach bum. He's spending all his time windsurfing. We're at our wits end."

"Is he happy?" I asked.

"Deliriously so," she replied bitterly.

"The world's full of sad middle-aged men who were going to change the world," I reminded her.

I'm glad I didn't give her a hug.

A-Ha-Ho Ho-A-Ho

(after Shelley)

Sitting here at my desk, all unknowing
Of anything going on
Within the library.
Communication's heavy going
We're feeling woebegone
Within the library.

We may break out the Ouija,
Tap a table or two,
Consult the runes
Or other misbehaviour.

If any were there to ask
It might not be such a task;
But outside the bunker
We're in the library.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Undetectable in normal everyday use

The staff gents' toilet hasn't had a working extractor fan for the past fourteen years. With the current round of cuts and austerity measures it's unlikely that it's going to be fixed any time soon.

Even the cleanest bathroom hangs onto its devils, which is how we've discovered that the combination of Glade Fresh and Glade Apple & Cinnamon sprayed in a 2:1 ratio creates exactly the smell of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.

We are investigating the possibilities of tapping into the nostalgia wave as an income generator.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ask not what your Capital can do for you...

Like most everyone else, we've received a missive or epistle telling us that we want to join in with the London Olympics' volunteer programme.

There's pages and pages of it, most of it so much gabble. It took three readings for it to dawn on me that the "games-makers" we were being exhorted to recruit were, in fact, volunteer workers. This annoys me: back when Manchester did the Commonwealth Games the volunteers did a splendid job and I've every hope and expectation that they'll do the same for the Olympics in London. Why The Committee ("Can we have order please? There's a tray of meat pies just come in as need paying for.") needs to piss on their chips by dubbing them "games-makers" is beyond me. Ask any passer-by if they would want to be a "games-maker" and I'm not sure you'd get many appropriate replies.

Partway through a particularly dense patch of verbiage lie the words "and of course, increased visitor use of your library." I've now read the bloody document five times and am none the wiser as to where the "of course" comes from.

As far as I can tell, we're being asked to act as recruiting agents for volunteers for the London Olympics, using the People's Network to provide access to the online application forms. If they said that I'd be all for it. Dumping a pile of officious bumptious garbage on us all doesn't endear the project.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On the Hop

Just a week into The Summer Reading Challenge and Frog and Maudie are already inundated with calls (always from the same two libraries) asking: "the children have finished the Summer Reading Game, what do we do now?" The professionalism of both shines through and they give better answers than I would have.

Perhaps the most spectacular challengers frequent Pottersbury Road Library. Hedi was ringing up with the question last Monday afternoon. No mean feat given that the game started on the Saturday, the library was open for three hours on the Saturday afternoon and she was ringing an hour after re-opening on the Monday. We're still trying to work out how the children would have registered for the game, gone away and read two books, come back and got their first set of goodies, read another two books and come back for the second and then read the final two books and come back for their winners' certificates in the time available.

Maudie, as ever, is a model of economy in response to daft questions.

"What happens when we run out of goodies to give to the children?"

"You won't have any left."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Work makes us free

I tried to explain how the council works to Posy. This was as close as I could get.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Five foot five, known stamp-collector

A missing letter S on a request slip leads Sybil to a dark place. Thinking that she's looking to see which libraries nationwide are holdings copies of a novel for genteel ladies she finds herself looking at cataloguing details of a book which describes itself as "the ultimate pin-up book of soft-porn punk princesses." This comes as a surprise at first as Sybil knows that Verity is the very model of probity and wouldn't dream of asking for naughty books for her library. It comes as a relief to realise the spelling error.

There is still a body of opinion that says that we should get the ultimate pin-up book of soft-porn punk princesses. Stock selection is always a burning issue in public libraries.

"We're always saying that we need to attract the young male demographic to our libraries."

"Yes, we should buy a copy while we're still allowed to buy any books. It would go out on loan OK."

"It would go out on loan OK but we'd never see it again once it had gone out."

"And we'd have to laminate the pages..."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Slouching to Bethlehem

Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) emerge, blinking in the sunlight from their bunker. They look around and seem astonished to find us still here. They scuttle away back into the bunker and put a "Meeting in progress, do not disturb" sign on the door.

This is what passes for management these days.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I'm in a meeting in the Town Hall. From my vantage point I can see the empty rolling plains that is the staff car park. The prohibitions on staff parking there are everything to do with the council's commitments to its Green Commute Programme and nothing whatever to do with trying to rake off a take from the commercial car parks in the town centre.

And absolutely nothing to do with the rumour that the car park is structurally unsound, nor should anything be read into the Building Inspection Team's being told that on no account must they investigate the lumps of concrete that fell off the side that time.

Only a cynic would point out that that of the Building Inspectors were made redundant last month.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nature red in tooth and carpets

For the second year running, peregrine falcons have successfully nested on the old Town hall at Umpty.

"That's splendid news!" said Frog to the Countryside Officer.

It's not so splendid when you get half a pigeon dropped on your head as you're clocking in for work."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes they don't, do they?

So this is where we're up to in the lending library...

After complaints that telephone calls aren't being answered a solution has been determined. Anybody ringing the lending library office at the top of the building finds their call put through to Maisie in the basement. Maisie then tries to put the call through to the lending library office and after three rings it comes back down to Maudie's 'phone, Maudie sitting next to Maisie. Bad words are said by one sotto voce while the other apologises to the caller and tries again. With the same result. Third time lucky, they always say, and as "they" patently have no idea whatsoever Maisie tries to put the call through to the lending counter, that being next to the lending library office. Only to discover that that is no longer a valid number on the switchboard. After apologising to the caller, taking a message and promising to pass it on, Maisie and Maudie draw straws to see whose turn it is this time to run up all those stairs and pass the message on to whoever's up in lending today.


Sybil tries to ring the lending counter to try and sort out an inter-library loan request and gets a disconnected tone. Doreen, who is in charge of the lending library inter alia, is passing so Sybil asks a sensible question.

"Is there something wrong with the 'phone upstairs? I keep getting a disconnected tone when I ring it."

Doreen blows a gasket.

"I only had the number changed this morning. All the lending staff know about it."

After a suitable interval, Sybil points out:

"Yes, but we didn't. What number do we need to ring to get through upstairs?"

Doreen blows another gasket.

It turns out that the new number is what was the old Children's Librarian number, back in the days when dear old Betty Rosencrantz was Children's Librarian Of All The Russias. So that's all right then, isn't it.

Sibyl was bitching about this exchange over the lunch table.

"Why didn't you ring extension 18?" asked Maybelle.

"What's extension 18?" we all asked.

"It's the other 'phone on the counter. It's the one the staff use when they want to get through to the counter. It's sort of a secret but everybody knows about it."

I've worked in this building for nearly two decades and it's the first I've heard of it.

Ranting windmills

Helminthdale being such a small place, many of our customer transactions have a lengthy back story. Take the Child Psychologist who's just had his books issued to him by Janie. Janie used to be a teacher before she retired and had to go to some of his seminars.
"Some of the teachers used to hang on his every word as if it were gospel. Which was strange given that his children had such extraordinary behaviour. One insisted on coming into class on a skateboard and just wouldn't be stopped doing it. I'd get 'phone calls: 'how dare you stifle my child's freedom of expression?' I tried my best to explain that I also had to respect the freedom of expression of the thirty-five parents complaining about their children's bruised ankles but he wasn't having any of it."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ding dong

Walking through the bus station I notice a figure walking through to the chip shop car park, pulling along a little suitcase on wheels.

It's the council's Chief Executive, J.Arthur Blenkenstein. Poor old devil. Fancy having to become an Avon lady at his age.

Cloud computing

There's no money about. The architects are presenting the new Town Hall at Umpty, which will also be housing the council's IT Section. All goes well until someone from the IT Section puts his hand up.

"Where are the servers going?"

Yup. There's no room at the inn for the council's IT infrastructure.

Plan B now involves a loft conversion.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not good uns, just recognisable

Not a good idea...

We're coming up to end of day. The staff on the counter have switched off all but one terminal. Three staff are behind the counter waiting for time's up. One is serving a queue of customers at the terminal that's still switched on.

I'll make a point up being up here tomorrow evening and perhaps lend a hand if the circumstances recur.

The delusional and terminally superficial

Some of the staff have come back this week's indoctrination session. The Bobbing Up And Down Team have been wound up and the relict members are passing on the good news about Helminthdale Council's new way of working.

The idea that Helminthdale Council works at all strikes many of us as a dangerous novelty.

Apparently, that isn't an attitude that's going to be tested under the new regime.

Be careful what you wish for

The council's intranet includes a staff forum. "This is your forum where you can discuss the issues that are important to you; where you and your colleagues can share ideas and let us know what you think." For one brief, glorious ten minutes the forum discussion on the staff consultation process was available for staff to see.

The question was: "What do you think are this organisation's core goals and objectives?"

I particularly liked "Striving to maximise adequacy."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The healthy living agenda

A couple of the Library Assistants are moaning about stiffness and bad backs.

"Hey up," says a passing customer (of an age), "tha'll be alright once you have a shit and a sleep. Not at the same time, mind."

Those parallel wrinkles that are the penalty of superciliousness

I am persuaded that librarians don't do teamwork.

A mournful concern for what happened

The unions are inviting us to "fight the ConDem plans to destroy public services." It's difficult to rouse oneself to the barricades as it's evident that public sector managers seem to be intent on beating them to it.

The latest news on the grapevine involves a local authority a few miles away. They've sent all the staff above scale 4 redundancy notices. No word of warning, just plop on the hall floor when the postie came a-calling. They will be able to apply for their own jobs, once the council's decided which of those jobs they're not going to cut.
  1. Scale 4 is the unofficial aspirational entry level for graduates coming into local government posts. It's the lowest point on the scale where you earn enough to definitely be paying Income Tax and National Insurance, plus the contributions to the fully-funded-by-staff-contributions pension that the government says it can't afford despite the fact it doesn't actually cost the taxpayer anything because it's entirely funded by staff contributions. Scale 2/3 is the actual entry level for most graduates in local government. The payment rate for Scale 1 is actually below the national minimum wage.

  2. The clock starts ticking on the day that you are declared redundant. You have 90 days to find alternative employment. At the end of the 90 days you are unemployed. You will notice that this council has decided to have a think about which jobs to keep, then advertise, interview and appoint after staff have received a letter of redundancy.
Touch wood, I don't think Helminthdale will be as bad as that.

Monday, July 12, 2010

We called him all the Portuguese pet-names we could think of
and made up a few new ones.

As a consolation prize for Friday's slight mishap Digby Deadpan, the council's Press Officer, has set the library up with another prospective road crash. This time it's A Celebrity Some Of Us Have Heard Of.

"I want you to get in some schoolkids," he tells Posy. "Of course, I'll need to know what they're going to say to him."

"Schoolkids?" asks Posy, "do you imagine they're going to remember what they were going to say to him a week after they've told us?"

"Well, we can't have them upsetting him with difficult questions. He's a bit of a diva."

Kettle. Pan.

"If he's a bit of a diva, what the fuck is he doing booking him to meet the public in a library?" explodes Maybelle.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Rock and roll nostrils

Oh joy.

This afternoon, Umpty Library was to be visited by A Celebrity That Nobody's Ever Heard Of. For no apparent reason other than the council's Press Officer was offered him cheap by somebody he knew. To say that the run-up to the calamity has made us pine for the seamless efficiency of the planning regime of T.Aldous and Mary is to understate considerably. Not least because the council's Press Officer is a bit of a prima donna.

There have been a flurry of bumptious "Thou shalt" emails from said chappie for the past four weeks. Between them, Doreen, Bronwyn and Posy have exhausted their vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon colloquialisms. And today's the day.

Posters all over town.

Queue of damp tweenies waiting for signed photographs.

No show.

"He's on his way," became, an hour later: "he's not coming." He's unwell out of a bottle, but we can't tell the tweenies that.

"Ah well, if he's not coming I'll leave you to it," says PR Professional.

Which is when Doreen discovered a word she didn't think she knew.

It smells of brown soap and beer

Maybelle is laughing immoderate. This is usually bad news.

She is reading a set of minutes. Definitely bad news. She folds over the top of the sheet.

"Read these minutes and see if you can guess which meeting it was," she says.

Let's see..

  • Action one to be done by the Counter Supervisors (Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle)...
  • Action two to be done by Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle...
  • Action three to be done by Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle...
  • Action four to be done by Milton...
  • Action five to be done by Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle...
  • Action six to be done by me (nice to know!)...
  • Action seven to be done by Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle...
  • Action eight to be done by Frog and Bronwyn...
  • Action nine to be done by Hettie, Daisy and Maybelle...
It's too easy. The Assistant Librarians are conspicuous by their absence.

All morning trying to push a cow into Hangar 25

Maudie and Maisie are strung out to the nines. As well as doing their own jobs - all the admin. and finance for the whole of the Library Service; reporting yet more building problems at Catty, Umpty, Spadespit and Windscape libraries; collating the 2009/10 statistics that Jack Harry decided he wanted last week that could have been collated as we go along throughout the last financial year and need to be delivered today; that sort of thing - they're answering the 'phones for Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week) because, well, we're not sure why but it's bound be a jolly good reason; making tea for the Social Services meeting up in the lending library community room (no, we're not sure, either); and answering all the calls to the Assistant Librarian's office on the top floor because of a Customer Care Audit diktat that states that they must answer that 'phone, despite it being four floors upstairs from us and all the calls are from staff wanting to talk to the Assistant Librarian.

Jack Harry takes a 'phone call from the new Assistant Director. He comes out of his office to speak unto Maudie and Maisie.

"Kieran Paisley in the Leisure Section needs some help to pack some boxes. I've said that you'll go over to the Town Hall to give him a hand."

The girls are just - only just, mind - professional enough not to say they can't go out because they're washing their hair.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

For the answers to these questions tune in next week and much good it'll do you

I knew it was all going too swimmingly lately. I've been getting a bit giddy with it. It had to come to an end. And inevitably, it was a meeting of the Shadowy Cabinet that brought me back down to Earth.

The past few meetings had been pretty good. Possibly because, in the absence of T.Aldous and with Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week)'s complete and abject inability to work as a team, Warner had asked Julia to fill in for a bit pending the latest restructure of the Assistant Directorate. The moment has passed and she's now back in tight defensive Group Librarian formation, conveniently forgetting the moments in the recent past where... [Oh, it's no good, I'll have to start a secret blog to do the stories justice.]


Most of the business of the meeting was unremarkably remarkable save that I'm appalled by what we consider to be normal these days. Where I came a cropper, and badly, was the photo library.

We have a lot of photos. We have a lot of photos in digital format held in files on the computer. We have a lot of photos in digital format held in files on the computer in a file and folder structure that can at best be described as random to the point of wilful obscurity. This has suddenly become a problem for the Library Service because it has inconvenienced a member of Library Policy & Strategic Management Team (this week).

"We need to sort them out so that we can find pictures we may want for publicity."

Now, if you're reading this blog you can come up with at least one perfectly good way of solving this problem. And I have already presented them with three of those solutions. I made a noise then shut up.

"Yes this is a problem."

"Is this something we could get volunteers to do?"

I'm sat at a table surrounded by librarians. Will somebody please tell CILIP that I did this next thing. I said:

"Isn't the selection, description and organisation of materials and the building of the means to retrieve them the sort of thing a librarian should be doing? I mean, it's good old-fashioned librarianship, the stuff that you've been trained properly to do."

I looked around the table.

It was all I could do not to say: "I'll get me coat."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Falling in love with rain and melancholy

I'm talking to Alice at Spadespit Library. She's a bit concerned that the library's not as busy as it should be lately.

"It's been so quiet they've been hunting stags in the reading room," she explains.

Luxuriating amongst fourteen aisles of dry grocery products

The new stock selection policy, such as it is, is easy: Frog's signed up to every children's literacy programme going - Book Off, Book You, Book North, Booked If I Know, etc. etc. etc. - and Bronwyn's signed up to every reading agency programme going and a couple that aren't yet. That way between them they hope we'll be able to blag a couple of hundred free books a month. Meanwhile, the rest of us are on the look-out for anything that may provide us with a few boxes of free books without our having to sell our own families into bondage (other people's families are fair game).

If you see anybody in the supermarket ripping special offer labels off cereal packets, or mugging old ladies for their copy of The People's Friend, it'll be your local public librarian doing their bit for the bookshelves of Britain.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Apocalypse wears crimplene

How events are organised...

In a couple of week's time we are to host an event upstairs in the lending library. It's only tangentially-related to what the library does for a living but we have to do it as part of the contractual arrangements for some project funding. It's high profile but not a big deal.

A couple of weeks ago it dawned on Posy that it'll probably be landed on her to do so she was a bit proactive (I know, I know, but she's not been with us long) and worked out the logistics and arranged with Bronwyn and Frog for them to chat up some contacts to provide a tame and happily responsive audience. Job done-ish, pending final details from Doreen and publicity from the Press & Publicity Section.

Just before lunchtime Doreen breezed into the project like a Double Gloucester on a hillside...
  • Nobody would be around to host the event. [Posy had already offered to come in to do precisely that, killing two birds with one stone as she needs to pay back some time off she had to take last month.]
  • Bronwyn and Frog hadn't made themselves available. [Neither had been asked to make themselves available and weren't needed anyway as Posy could do all the necessary and the audience was to be primed well beforehand.]
  • Frog was double-booked. [He'd already been slated to do a story session at Gribble Community Centre and wasn't really involved in this event anyway.]
And sundry other. We don't have nearly enough problems so it was nice to see somebody putting so much effort into generating a whole flotilla of them from absolutely nothing.

Maybelle was unimpressed:

"You watch: Doreen will get everyone as confused as hell, it'll all become a panicky shambles and it'll be decided that It's All Posy's Fault."
I can see nothing to argue with that analysis.

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A vision of loveliness assails me on the way into work. Passing through the bus station I managed to avoid any eye contact with the elderly chap in the black blazer, black Homberg and white plimsolls.

And no trousers.

Friday, July 02, 2010

You can never be sure that an Eccles cake would stop moving

How events are organised...

From: Frog
To: Dagmar
Subject: Children's Reading Week event

Hi Dagmar,
The poet's available any time that week. Which would suit you best at Raccoonville?

From: Dagmar
To: Frog

Which day is the poet available?

From: Frog
To: Dagmar

The poet is available any time that week. When's best?

From: Dagmar
To: Frog

Any time's fine.

So Frog books the poet and sends out the publicity. Sure as eggs...

From: Dagmar
To: Frog

We can't have the poet on a Thursday. The Ladies' Reading Guild uses the meeting room that day.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

She had a cheeky mole on her left thigh.
It stuck out its tongue and ran up her knicker leg

We're not the only ones with stock-editing problems. I was at a thing this morning (I have a horror of calling anything a "workshop" that doesn't involve hammers and industrial lengths of metal) and got to swapping stories with a couple of the other contestants.

"I had to take a sex education manual out of the children's library last week," one confided.

"Oo-err. That bad?"

"I'l say. The section called 'Bliss within marriage' started off by saying that the wife should always have her man's tea on the table when he gets home and not to let him see you with your hair in rollers."