Thursday, 28 April 2011

Silence in the library? I think not.

I had to call in at our local library earlier today. One of the books that I've had on loan was overdue and although normally I could have renewed it online, someone else had reserved it, so I had to return it.

The book in question was "Rough guide to MACS & OS X: 10.6 Snow Leopard". I've recently bought an Apple Mac Book laptop computer, so I needed a bit of guidance and this book has been very helpful. The information is clearly presented and well explained, without being overly chummy and patronizing. If you are a PC user but thinking of getting an Apple computer, I'd happily recommend this book to get you through the early days. 

Nowadays, a visit to the library is just one more of those occasions where I'm forced to acknowledge that I am getting old. They used to say that you knew you were getting old when the policemen started to look younger. I passed that milestone yonks ago; even the librarians are looking younger now, so I wasn't too surprised to find that the chap behind the desk looked barely old enough to have left school.

"Hi" he said
"Hi. I'm sorry, but this one's overdue" I said, placing the book on the counter. "I would have renewed it, but it's been reserved..."
"Ah, sorry about that."
He opened the book and passsed it under the bar-code scanner.
There was a pause, but obviously the scanner had failed to read correctly, as he repeated the process.
He detatched the scanner from its holder and tried again... and again from several different angles and distances.
It was like watching Harry Potter trying to cast a spell with a malfunctioning wand. The scanner just wasn't reading the bar-code.

Eventually, after a few more fruitless passes, he gave up on laser technology and turned to the computer keyboard to type in the book's identity code, long-hand.
When he'd finished, he looked up and said,
"Y'know what the problem is?... It's a book about Apple Macs, and this system is run on a PC..."

I burst out laughing.
You just don't expect stand-up comedy from librarians.
So that would seem to be another compelling reason why we should fight to keep our libraries safe from closure.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

I still love this job

We had some "Good News" at work the other day.
Jodrell Bank Observatory has been selected as the home for the Square Kilometre Array Project Office. The SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope and it will be located in either Australia or South Africa. It is a global effort by astronomers and engineers from many countries, so being chosen as the place where the whole project will be managed is quite a coup.
Inevitably, news like this generates media interest...

I was working a Day Shift on Monday when the 'phone rang.
"Control room?..."
"Oh, hello. This is Kate from the BBC. Could I speak to Professor Simon Garrington?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't transfer you from this 'phone. It's a dedicated line just for the telescope control room. Hold on a moment, let me give you his office number."
I checked the internal directory and gave her the number, she said "Thanks" again, and that was that...
Until I realized that I'd given her the wrong 'phone number.
"Oh great," I thought. "That'll make a good impression. I wonder if I can ring her back with the right number." I quickly called "1471", got her number and gave it a ring.
"Er, hello." I said. "This is the Controller at Jodrell Bank. You called a couple of minutes ago, but I've just realized that I gave you the wrong telephone number. Look, sorry to have messed you about ,but I've got the correct number now, if you still need it."
"That's OK. I'm almost there now. I should be arriving at the Main Building in a couple of minutes."
"Oh. I didn't realize you were en route. If you park right outside the front entrance, I'll buzz you in."

Simon met the lady from the BBC in the foyer, so it was about half an hour later that they both came into the Control Room to do a short TV interview about the SKA news.
"This is Kate Simms, from BBC North West News. And this is Kim our Duty Controller for the day."
As we shook hands I said "I'm afraid we've already spoken. I'm the bloke who gives out duff information and wrong numbers."
Honesty is usually the best policy.

Kate Simms is charming. Considering that she was working to quite a tight schedule, she was impressively down-to-earth.and calm. There was no visible trace of the stress or terseness that occasionally reveals itself when media folk are working to a deadline.
She singlehandedly recorded a short TV interview with Simon at ground level, then she lugged all her camera gear up into the telescope bowl to shoot a second interview, before returning to the Control Room to join the crew who had arrived with a satellite communications truck, to prepare for a live interview which was seamlessly dropped into the lunchtime news.

You've got to say it's a good day at work when, not only do,you get to hear some good news, but you also meet a genuinely charming celebrity.
SKA Image Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions/SKA Program Development Office