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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A repetition of fingers

Verity's got some interesting news:

"Councillor Mountebank was at the Action Area Committee meeting last night. He was telling them all that there are plans to close all the libraries and turn them into housing offices. Which is odd because they've closed all the housing offices: the tenants have to get the bus into Catty to report repairs nowadays. But he insisted it was true."

"I wonder where he got that idea from."

"You know what he's like. There's no love lost between him and the Chairman of the Committee. He said that he wasn't having that news adding to the minutes just on Councillor Mountebank's say-so. They spent the rest of the meeting squabbling about the new school playground."

There's more smoke than mirrors around these parts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Robin Hood's Bicycle Division

Some more midget gems of current thinking from the reference library shelves:

  • Great Britain: House Of Commons: Employment Commitee :Youth Employment and Training: New Training Initiative (June 1982)
  • Reorganisation Of Public Elementary Schools In England And Wales 1937-38
  • Better Schools (1985)
  • The Internal Purchasing Power Of The Pound (1989)
  • Who Publishes Official Information For Business And Industry? Proceedings Of A One-Day Seminar 20 Sept 1988
  • Financial Services In The United Kingdom: A New Framework For Investor Protection (White Paper) (1985)
  • Employment For The 1990's (White Paper)
  • Commercial Property Development (1975)
  • Broadcasting In The '90s
  • 2nd Report Of The Committee: A Comparison Of Transition Temperatures Determined By Small And Large Scale Tests On Five Steels (1960)
  • A Simple Guide To Basic Processes In The Iron And Steel Industry (1964)
  • The Queen's Award To Industry. Report Of The 1970 Review Committee
  • Session 1987-88 Fifth Report The Future Of The National Health ServiceFirst Report From The Social Services Committee Session 1985-86: Reform Of Social Security
  • The Artificial Kidney... What It Is And How It Works (1965)
  • Europe: A Time To Choose, Elections June 1984
  • More Examples Of English Handwriting With Essex Parish Records Of 13th - 18th Centuries (1950)
  • Aids To Identification Of Flying Objects (1968)
  • Collectable Silver (1963)
  • A Policy For The Arts (The First Steps.) Cmnd. Paper 2601 (1965)
  • A Brief History Of The National Gallery Of Scotland (1961)
  • Local Government Reform: Short Version Of The Report (1969)
  • Battle For The Counties: Guide To The County Council Elections May 1977

There'll be a little more stock-editing going on this Autumn, I think!

Every man is divinity in disguise ...it is God playing the fool

A colleague writes:

"When the phone call starts “this is Andrew”, it is the start of what can only be a period of serious misery. (Andrew is affectionately referred to hereabouts as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.)

"Anyway, the left hand counter PC had somehow, and mysteriously, got itself in a state whereby it wouldn’t reboot. Quite how it had got there is a mystery which would baffle Mr. Morse, Mr. Homes and Mr. Fu Manchu, as Mr. Blofeld wasn’t for letting on as to how it had become so afflicted. He did say however that efforts to reboot had involved pressing F2s and F12s, which was somewhat worrying as messing around with such is a typical, nasty trick at this library.

"However having visited and rebooted, resaved stuff they may have F2 ed off, and F4 ed a couple of times things seem ok, well all except my temperate demeanour and stress levels. I suppose it could have been worse as Mr. Blofeld was elsewhere, probably plotting to take over the world beyond with Mr Scaramanga, and his faithful assistant was, hopefully, heading into the sea, not out of it. "

These days I don't think I'd have the patience for that sort of nonsense: if they've fucked the PC they can fix it would be my response. Stories like this from colleagues in other library services remind me how lucky I've been with most of our front-line staff over the years.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Elephants never forget

It was my fault. I had warned about the onset of barbarism...

It wasn't as bad as that afternoon we lost to the Moomins but it was quite bad enough.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My head's completely curly-wurly

Conversation with Milton:

"You know that web stuff you've been working on? Well, I've been talking to some people about a product that does pretty much the same thing. They've been using it in other libraries and they reckon it'll do the job. I'm seeing them tomorrow. You can come along if you want."

I can come along if I want? Three months' work potentially down the toilet and I can come along if I want.

Pictures at an exhibition

A couple of the Counter Assistants had too merry a Sunday lunchtime and went home with tattoos. "What did you get?" we ask them.

"I don't know what it's supposed to be," says Cora.

"It's a Chinese lucky charm symbol," insists Sue.

"It's a Chinese lucky charm symbol," says Cora.

We're obviously not convinced.

"Well, I'm not showing you mine," says Cora. "Not where I've got it."

We all boggle slightly.

"Here, I'll show you mine,"

says Sue, who's obviously said that before to a group in a closed room. It turns out to be just below her collarbone. The gentlemen decline the offer. Lippy checks it out.

"Is this supposed to be a Chinese lucky charm symbol then?" she asks.

"Yes," replies Sue.

"Why's it say 'Milk Marketing Board' then?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Field-dressing a moose

Thelma is fed up.

Epiphany Library is closed on Fridays so she has to come in to Helminthdale to provide a spare body in the lending library.

"Every time I come in something else has been changed and the people who know anything about it aren't in. It's embarrassing watching people floundering, trying to find out where something's been moved to this time while the customer's stood there tutting and drumming their fingers."

It's true enough: it's falling apart upstairs. You can never guess from one day to the next which staff are going to be in. No sooner do they get their coats off they've got to rush out to cover an unexpected hole in one library or another. It's been months since they've had a staff meeting with more than two people in it. It's a constant wonder they know which town they're in, let alone where the library cards have moved to this week. Frog and Bronwyn have given up asking for anything to be done up there unless they're doing it themselves. That's my working relationship with most of the library service this days.

Unfortunately I don't see it getting any better.

Quite the reverse, in fact.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Human flowers

We're struggling a bit so now is the time for firm and decisive leadership to steer the library service through hard times.

Library Strategy Group (this week) is pulling together to reach new lows of teamwork and dependability:
  • Doreen isn't talking to Milton.
  • Doreen and Julia are sometimes talking to each other.
  • Nobody's talking to Jack Harry.
  • None of them are talking to the rest of the staff.
Things have become a little more fraught since the announcement of a series of Service Efficiency Reviews.
  • Julia and Doreen are pissed off because they've been included in the Buildings Management Review and Jack Harry and Milton haven't. Jack Harry and Milton don't manage any buildings but that doesn't come into it.
  • Jack Harry finds himself included in the Transformational Management Review, which isn't as exciting as it sounds and thrills him no end as it's become painfully apparent that whoever's scoped this particular review just looked at the lists of people who attend (or, more strictly, get sent to) half a dozen of the council's Policy Development Meetings and decided that these are Transformation Managers, efficiencies for the use of, regardless of what any of them actually do for a living.
  • Milton's not embroiled in any of the corporate senior management reviews, which rankles with Julia and Doreen, who would have a lot to say about it if they hadn't already fallen out with him about something else entirely.
  • For some reason none of them are involved in the Regeneration & Strategic Planning Review.
  • The results of a review of the management of the library service will be available next month.
To add to the fun, Warner, who has been the council's main troubleshooter over the past twenty years, has had another service added to his empire with directions from the Chief Executive to Turn It Round and let his deputies run the rest of the business. The idea that any other service in the council could be a bigger problem than the library service affords us a heady mixture of relief and blank horror.

Elsewhere in the universe some of the rest of us look like being affected by the Service Efficiency Reviews just as much as the Olympians:
  • Maisie and Maudie are to be included in the Financial Support Services Audit, the stated objective of which is the creation of a central Financial Support Services Team, to be located in the Town Hall Annexe. Only by the grace of God and our managers not having the first idea of what they do did the Acquisitions Team avoid getting dragged into this scrape.
  • I was damnably lucky to have escaped getting entangled with the IT outsourcing, thanks in part to a magnificent bit of circumlocutory lunacy by T.Aldous at the time. I doubt I'll be so lucky when it comes to the Information Support Services Audit that's being talked about at the moment. Strange that the reference library doesn't figure in this...
  • The Fleet Disposition Analysis is going to make life just as awkward for the mobile library as it is for the library courier van and the housebound library service.
  • One of the results of the Office Space Rationalisation Programme looks like our having to make space for Library Strategy Group (this week) some time this Autumn as they will be having to budge up so that the social workers from Ted Kavanagh House can move in. We suspect that this is what all the tape measures were really about early in the summer.
  • Something is brewing in Sheep City which might drag in at least Dutch Bend and Catty libraries, if not all of them.
  • And we'll all have to have our advocacy trousers on when the Customer Support Services Audit kicks in at the end of the year.
Happy days. And this is before we have to start worrying about Dave's Big Society, councils sharing services or whatever the DCMS has in mind for delivering library services in supermarkets (or in Helminthdale's case, vacant retail spaces; oh no, we're already doing that).

The Paris Zoo looks forward to the Franco-Prussian War

A couple of boxes of books arrive for the Acquisitions Team. Huzzah! All is not lost!

Alas, it's just a pile of old books from Umpty Library, each labelled: "For Recataloguing." Half are stamped "Withdrawn from stock. For Sale." The other half look as if they could have walked here themselves.

Noreen and Bronwyn agree that although times are hard they aren't quite that hard and aren't likely to become so any time in the near future. It is decided that we should dispose of the books.

There is a lengthy discussion as to who should nip out for the holy water and sharpened stake, just in case.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A mist of grease vapour

As part of the council's new healthy living initiative library staff have taken to eurythmic dancing in the staff canteen.

Asking Liberace to powder his own piano

A 'phone call from the Reference Library.

"The new PC in the Ref. office isn't printing," says Eileen.

"Are you getting any error messages or anything?" I ask.

"No, it just says 'Printer can't be found.'"

"Which printer is it set up to use?"

"I don't know."

"Which one should it be using?"

After a full minute's silence I blink first.

"I'll come up and have a look at it."

(The techies amongst you will have guessed that it's the printer on the Ref. desk and that for some reason somebody had changed the PC's settings to print to a non-existant printer.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braised fruit in trousers smoulder

A few people have asked about progress with last year's Transformational Exercise.

As, indeed, did we.

Time and motion

There's no money about.

Which is why the council's been installing energy-saving motion sensors in Tench Road Community School so that the lights go out when nobody's in the building.

The school is going to be demolished next Easter when the new library building's commissioned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Hobson's choice of dooms

Chatting to someone from the IT Department we get to talking about all the talking about cuts.

"How's your business affected?" I ask her.

"Oh, twenty-five per cent cuts, same as everyone else."

"How's that work? They outsourced you and sold you to the lowest bidder so you're not a council department any more."

"That's true. We're not council workers any more. They've changed the pension and redundancy agreements and they regraded down all our salaries. But when the council's trying to save money we still get our share of the cuts."

"They can't do that, can they?"

Evidently they can.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pointing at darkness

Being a servant of the people I am not allowed to say anything that may be construed as being politically partisan. I suspect that I am allowed to be alarmed a tad at the onward rush of the New Age Of Austerity and the strategic leaks about the council's financial position that each add thirty million to the figure leaked five weeks previously. In ordinary circumstances one would suspect that these are a softening-up exercise so that when we discover that we are only to have two limbs surgically-removed and not three we'll be overcome by relief and grateful for the last-minute rescue by sundry financial wizards.

Last week, looking at the cardboard cut-outs of shop interiors gracing the shop windows of Inkerman Street and the latest closing down sale of a charity shop in The Arcade, I wasn't so sure. I'm even less sure on sober reflection.

The Machiavellian in me wonders if the ruling parties have decided that they're going to get a kicking in the next municipal elections so they're going to leave scorched earth for the incoming administration.

The observational scientist in me wonders how Helminthdale Council will manage to make the cuts without the savings.

The rationalist in me thinks I should start buying Lottery tickets.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's not just doorknobs that come off in your hand

If I had a pound for every time someone said: "I almost wish T.Aldous was back in charge of this place" this week I'd have a smashing weekend.

(Just for the record, I said it the once.)

Commonwealth Senna Pod Day

The consensus of opinion in the office is that I am clutching at straws. I've spent the past few weeks trying to accentuate the positive and persuade people that they aren't necessarily doomed. Most of the time I can wear them down enough to pretend they've almost been persuaded but today they're not having any.

"Look at the advantages we've got over the rest of the council," I said.

"What advantages?" they asked.

"It's utter chaos out there. Nobody's got the first idea what the hell is going on and can't plan ahead from one day to the next."


"That's how we've always worked. We're used to it. And what's more, we actually still manage to deliver services that the public like and appreciate and say nice things about in government surveys. While they're all wandering around all dazed and confused we could be nipping in there, nobbling the councillors."

Thursday, September 16, 2010


One corner of the office is having a touch of the Cyndi Laupers:

"Come to work in the morning light.
No idea if I'm doing anything right.
I'll soon know if I get it wrong.
Librarians having fun.
Librarians having fun."

Advice to live by

"You can't go to the hairdresser's with a full bladder," says Lippy.

How true those words are, even today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Any other attention-seeking squirrels in the news this week?

Do we really need to explain to a senior manager that if you keep stock in boxes in a back room in one of their libraries then it won't be heavily-used by our customers?

Apparently we do.

Bronwyn decides she's going to do it as she's more tactful than me.

It's an interesting situation. It's not often I hear her say "fuck."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kismet has had a hand in it

Frog is dead nosy, which is just as well really as that envelope in the dispatch room addressed "Helminthdale Library" is actually a pile of colouring competition entries from one of our libraries that should have been marked: "Urgent: for attention Frog. Colouring competition."

Monday, September 13, 2010

The juggler got six months and the dog got its licence endorsed

I bump into Ken Barmy, who's taking the black dog for a walk. He is more than usually impressed by the standard of their local leadership.

"We have no strategy for survival but we know what to do if we see a dog having a shit."

Good luck with your OFSTED, Mr. Chips

"I had an awful morning at Pottersbury Road," Deirdre moans, "the kids were running amuck."

"Did you tell them to pack it in?" asks Thelma.

"Well, no."

"I think that might be why."

Which one do you think was a teacher?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tonight, Matthew, I shall be Edmund, Earl of Warwick

A guest entry to the songbook, with apologies to Innes

Listen to the calendar,
It's getting way past April.
We don't know what we're doing or what for.
How can we get away with
Shambling day to day?
We don't have clouds and smokescreens any more.

You know that thing that you've been doing?
Well, it's not important.
Although everything's a top priority.
And everything is all-fire urgent,
Needed yesterday.
But will we ever use it? Well, we'll see...

Reality is scratching on our doorstep.
The bogeyman breathes on the window pane.
The year half gone it finally dawns on us
It's library business planning time again.

So will we know what's needing doing
And just how to do it?
It is assumed but really I'm just not so sure.
Planning how to talk about it
Is a plan too far.
Seems we're not business planning any more.

The cold winds blow and we lie unprotected.
Rudderless, we float the stormy tide.
Overstretched staff, we see strains are showing
And managers just in it for the ride.

Listen to the tolling bell, it tells of cuts approaching.
What should we keep? What can safely let go?
What priorities to work to?
How are they resourced?
If we don't know by now we'll never know.

If we don't know by now we'll never know...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pissing on somebody else's chips

One of the higher-ups in the council is having an "on the shop floor" day in one of our libraries.

"What do you see yourself doing in a couple of years' time?" he asked one of the assistants.

"I'd hope I'd have been given a redundancy pay-off by then," she replied.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

You're never alone with a pilchard

Had to nip out to Umpty Library. For some reason the bus smells of fish paste.

I don't know why.

I'm happier not knowing.

All day long the sky is blue and no one has a lot to do in Shangri-La

Walking in to work is a dismal affair. As I walk through the derelict bus station and past the boarded-up shops I see old allies and adversaries, tired pensioners in polo shirts and tracksuit bottoms shuffling their way to nothing in particular.

I'm really not in the mood for this.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ancestral voices

A colleague writes:

"One of the users has been giving staff a rare old run around while trying to trace her family tree. Thing is the same woman claims to be a medium, so as quite rightly the Family History Librarian points out, if she was any good as a medium she could just ask her ancestors and do her tree that way without bothering them."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Twilight in the tropics

The new energy-saving motion sensors in Noddy Library are a huge success. A huge success. Every so often there'll be a shriek in the reading room when the lights go out on some unwary reader.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Make a juggler drop his clubs

We thought it was the air-conditioning.

It turned out to be a beefburger in a box in the staff room.


A conversation between Jack Harry and Bronwyn:

"Bronwyn, we're getting a lot of complaints about the state of the biographies at Catty Library. They could do with some new stock."

"Yes, I know. I think I've worked out which libraries I need to swap with so that they all get a decent lot of fresh books."

"Why don't we just order a pile from the non-fiction budget?"

"There's no money in it now it's been cut."