or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 1/13/13

   January 19th, 2013

Here's my own reference question this week - why are so many of our magazines arriving in the mail torn and mangled?

Usually it takes our patrons a day or two to make the magazines look like this.

The damage is worse than the photograph shows - most of those rips are 20+ pages deep, and these were just three damaged issues we got in the mail delivery in one day. We've been getting them like this (or other variations, from minor tears to just a cover with no pages inside at all) almost daily now for a couple weeks, whereas before it seemed like maybe once a month, if that, a magazine would get damaged in the mail.

The first few I claimed through EBSCO, our magazine subscription aggregator. But finally it seemed like the problem must lie with the Post Office, so I decided to register a complaint there.

I went to USPS.com, and spent probably too much time looking for a "make a complaint" or "ask a question" email form. Eventually I found their Customer Service page, and submitted an email explaining that more and more of my library's magazines were getting damaged during delivery.

Not five minutes after I clicked send - and I'm not kidding, it was like five minutes - the phone rings and it's the local Postmaster for Chelmsford. Holy smokes, now that is impressive.

He said this is happening all through the USPS right now. The problem is that they've been using sorting machine with letters and envelopes for years, and it worked so well (as in, saved money and sped up the mail) that the USPS decided to use it for magazines, too.

However, the machines have not yet been calibrated for magazines, and routinely rip the crap out of them. He apologized, of course, and said they're working on it, but that it will continue until they figure the machines out. I hate answers like that, but I'm sure in this case they're highly motivated - he said they get daily calls from residential customers who are also getting badly damaged magazines delivered.

Anyway, I wanted to share this experience, in case other libraries have also seen their number of damaged magazines jump. And also to commend the USPS for such amazingly prompt customer service. Now just stop ripping up the magazines.

Postscript: something else the USPS could stop is their ridiculous (I felt) "How are we doing?" post-contact survey. It came into my email a couple days after I submitted the form on their website - which, in and of itself, was fine. But I think surveys like that should be five questions long, tops, and take less than a couple minutes. This one just kept going on and on - it even repeated questions, but varied them slightly, as if they wanted to see if I answered consistently. Seriously, this survey was probably 20+ questions and took more than seven minutes to complete. I could have quit at any time, of course, but I went through to the end because I was so fascinated by its complexity. Also, they seemed to know exactly the point at which I got annoyed, because after that point they no longer provided an open text comment box, so I couldn't tell them how much I disliked the survey itself. Oh well.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/13/13”

  1. Jenny Says:

    Good to know! It’s nice that your magazines are showing up at all…I have lost count of how many times we simply cease to receive a publication. It took six months to get them to start sending the NYBR again, and I’m still fighting for the Horn Book.

  2. Amelia Says:

    We’re having this problem with jus one magazine and I’m trying to figure out where along the line the problem is happening because we receive that magazine at home and it shows up fine. None of the other magazines we get show up damaged so I’m assuming its not our local post office, I’m figuring at some point the one bound for the library goes through a different point than the one that comes to my house.

  3. Whereismyrobot Says:

    I had a problem with the mail carrier delivering my magazines soaking wet. I contacted the USPS and a postmaster contacted me. They gave me an answer that was along the lines of, “yeah, they have rain bags for that, but they aren’t using them.” He didn’t say they would start using them.

    So basically, though they were sympathetic, there was not much they were going to do, which sounds like what they said to you.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jenny: it might be worth contacting whoever handles your subscriptions – we use EBSCO, and get great service when I file a claim like that.

    @Amelia: you know, we had trouble with our Value Line delivery for awhile – either not showing up at all, or showing up weeks late. I called Value Line and they did some kind of “postal trace” on it – I’m not exactly sure what that is, but some how the USPS would then closely track that item in the mail to see where it when and how long it took. Evidently, they identified the problem because they apologize and we haven’t had a problem since.

    @Whereismyrobot: unfortunately, I think you’re exactly right.

  5. Erin Apostolos Says:

    I haven’t had this problem. I don’t think our little town uses machines for sorting. What I do find interesting is how difficult it is to find a phone number on Websites involving the government or large companies. They try to steer you in every way possible to an email contact form. Not even a proper email address. It is nice you were called back so quickly, but this is rarely the case. I miss talking to a receptionist who can quickly connect you to the correct person.

    BTW, thanks for the tip on the unsolicited Scientology books. I’ve been putting them in the book sale.

    Take care,

  6. D. Says:

    Erin – I work for the Air Force, and we aren’t allowed to publish our email addresses on our organization’s website. It’s considered Personally Identifiable Information. We do have organizational mailboxes, though, and that’s what should be available to the public.