Sisyphean Spreadsheets and Eterminable Labours.

So life continues. Well, for the most part. I still get not quite enough sleep, but I’m marginally less frantic at the weekends now, so I can at least catch up on it then, except I appear to have misplaced the knack of sleeping past noon, which is a shame.

Work continues, though I am only working another fifteen and a half days this month, as I must use holiday time before my contract ends on the 31st.

I don’t usually talk much about work in places as public as Where the Entire World May google it with a Search Engine, but I am amazingly glad that I saved that time up; the rotation I’m working in now is just soul destroying. I am comparing two spreadsheets, each of which contains a data dump. Sheet 1 is data telling us what electronic publications we had access to on the old system. Sheet 2 tells us what electronic publications we had on the new system last August. I am supposed to do a lot of copy-pasting and check that we’re not missing anything important.

Specifically, I’m checking that we’ve not been missing anything important for the last academic year. Personally, I think if it was both missing and even slightly important, someone may have noticed over the course of the last academic year, but that opinion probably wouldn’t go down too well…

I am the third Grad Trainee this year to work on these spreadsheets – note ‘this year,’ I’ll come back to that in a minute – so this has been going on for eleven months. We started, two hundred and thirty eight days ago with the first publication on the list, 19th Century Music (which files before A, of course, because it begins with a numeral). Just before lunch today – half an elephant pregnancy later – I finished checking ‘Corruption Matters’.

It has taken us eleven months to get an eighth of the way through the alphabet. At this rate, we will not be above half-way before they change the system again, and it’s really quite hard to get motivated under those circumstances; it’s like being asked to bail out the Elan lakes with an egg cup. Assuming the egg cup has a hole drilled in it, and you keep having to stop and compare the content of the Elan lakes with the contents of the Aswan dam to make sure they both still contain water…

What’s worse, is that – I said I’d come to this – it turns out other trainees have been here before us. I only discovered this yesterday: the spreadsheets are from August, I assumed this stuff had only been invented in August. O no, these spreadsheets were only invented in August, but there were old spreadsheets before them. (You know that scene in comics where the people who’ve been lost in the desert, but have been following an ever-increasing number of footprints suddenly realise they’re not on a massive well-used highway, but have been walking around the same dune for seventeen panels? It’s like that.)

Some years ago some poor scunners got stuck in a single rotation for a whole year. For the guys Lending and Library Support I can see that would’ve been awesome, but the poor girl that got lumbered with the antedescendant of this white elephant was begging to be let out apparently, although it sounds as though she got rescued in the end, and we adopted this rotating system, thank God. (If that sounds like it was you, incidentally, that was forever asking Bill to be allowed to do something connected to either the rest of the library, or just to subject support or anything then give me a shout and I’ll see if I can’t confirm that and then buy you a very very large gin.)

It’s crushingly dispiriting, is the trouble. Given the choice between getting paid for this month’s work and walking three times over hot coals and then just getting paid for sitting at home with my feet in a tub of water for the month, I’d honestly take the poxy coals. It’s not like anything I do will make a significant impact on this damn thing, anyway – which is the heart of the problem, really.

I would advise anybody who finds themselves calculating how long it is until they can take their tea break, or adjusting their tea breaks so when they get back to the desk they only have an hour left until hometime, etc., that they should be thinking of changing jobs. I shouldn’t, of course, because I’ll be skint in two months, and a student after that and once that’s done I shall get a job in a library that involves, in any way at all, doing something useful and less interminable than this (cataloguing would be a prime example here, but since I like doing that anyway, it loses some of it’s impact; I’m still trying to learn Bliss in my spare time.)

Urrgh. And that is the end of my tea break. On the plus side, I’m effectively working for a fortnight this week, and it’s not all spreadsheets (because I get Monday mornings and all of Fridays off). Also, more to the point, I’ve got an extension cable for my headphones so at least I can now listen to KUSC while I wonder who’s been drilling holes in all my bloody teacups…

Done having a strop now. Going to find coffee and bemoan the fact the office is too hot.

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  1. On July 02, 2009 Statto says:

    Is it a stupid question to ask if there’s an automated way of doing it? Are most of the records identical, a few slightly off which could be clicked through, and some massively off/plain missing which require genuine attention? If so, possibly even Microsoft Excel lends you the scripting elbow-grease necessary to complete the task, though exporting as CSV and Pythoning it up would be my preference.

  2. On July 02, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    In all fairness it is a faintly stupid question, in this day and age, but the answer knocks its head in for stupidity: as far as I can tell, there is no automated way of doing it because we’re not allowed to have one.

    Both my fellow GTs [whose names I’m carefully not giving, you’ll notice] have asked if there is one, and they’ve been told it can’t be done. In a sense that’s true, because for a machine to do it it would need a reasonably up-to-date copy of the contents of SFX, but you could write a script to do that every term. Or every month, or week if you fancied.

    Right now I compare Sheet 1 with what is on SFX and then I compare that with Sheet 2. Then I make notes on the corresponding line of Sheet 2, and move on. Sometimes I do the sheets in the other order, but often I don’t bother as it makes no difference. Occasionally what is on Sheet 1 does not match Sheet 2, but what is on SFX does match Sheet 2, so there isn’t a problem (because sheet 2 matches what the system says.) Sometimes what is on Sheet 2 doesn’t match SFX, but that is OK as long as what is on SFX matches what SFX says is on it (which is usually the case, because all Sheet 2 says is what was on SFX, so it doesn’t matter much if that is out of date). Rarely – it’s happened all of ten times so far – what SFX says doesn’t match what is on SFX and I change it. It’s that last bit that couldn’t be automated, I think.

    However, since that bit could be done by hand from the output of the automated checking system (x 1000 records checked, 7 errors: $title1 $title2, etc., etc.) there’s not really anything to stop them. That’s What Makes The Whole Thing So Frustrating #4.

    Except, of course, then I wouldn’t have anything to do. FFS. They would get more value for their money if they set me to going around counting how many barcodes in the library end in an X. (This is a really good example, because they could automate that as well, but at least if I was checking every code book by book by book I’d have a sense of progress, and I could update them as I go along. (X’s don’t work so well with the self-return machine).

    On the plus side, tomorrow I am at Thomas Parry. <-- That being a plus side is a definite sign that something has gone awry somewhere in the works.

  3. On July 03, 2009 Statto says:

    My favourite part is the bit towards the end where you go all luddite and decry automation because it might put you out of a job. ;)

    Sounds pretty damn stupid, though. Make you you learn yourself a good scripting language on the side this year, and then when you get a proper library job you can make sure this never happens again. Even better, since you’re the guy who wrote the script, it will be the other guy who they let go.