Out of Control Policy Blog

Brooklyn Public Library Contracts with UPS for Internal Delivery Services

From the "interesting new wrinkles in privatization" files, Brooklyn offers what may be the first local privatization of internal library delivery services:

While numerous library consortia use commercial couriers like UPS for interlibrary loan, the Brooklyn Public Library may be the first library in the country to use UPS, rather than a local or internal courier system, to move materials around its branches.

BPL's internal delivery system, which used six trucks and dedicated staff, frequently got backed up, Natalie Caruso, Library Circulation Leader, told LJ. Turnaround time was at best three days, given that materials all went back to the Central Library; it frequently reached seven days, if materials were not picked up in the morning and/or were mishandled in the tight workspace, and could take up to two weeks.

Caruso estimated that ten percent of materials would be misplaced, and backlogs caused by winter weather and the holidays sometimes led to six-week delays. "We had clear vision of our loading dock maybe two months out of the year," she said. [. . .]

No longer. On May 1, the library began a three-month pilot with UPS, which assigned a different truck to each of BPL's 60 branches. "The results were astounding," Caruso said. "We're able to get material into the hands of the patron in 24 hours." Now BPL receives only 100 to 120 boxes at Central–the location's holdings– rather than 500, since UPS, which takes library packages to its sorting facility, delivers them the next day to the assigned location. Staffers who formerly drove trucks and sorted materials now work as sorters full-time. [. . .]

While BPL wouldn't provide specific numbers, "we spend less to use UPS for this level/amount of delivery than we would if we ran it ourselves," spokeswoman Stefanie Arck told LJ. "We have aggressive circulation goals (19 million by next year) so getting these materials to our customer in a timely manner is key for us and UPS can deliver that." BPL, which formerly limited users to five holds per card, now allows ten.

Kudos to BPL. This is a perfect example of one of those under-the-radar services that governments provide that completely fails the "Yellow Pages test"—i.e., if someone offers that service in the Yellow Pages, then government should "buy," not "make" that service. Put differently, moving books around between libraries is hardly an "inherently governmental" function that only public employees can do. It's an activity that's commercial in nature and is likely to be provided more efficiently and cost-effectively by private enterprise.

BPL was hamstrung by an inefficient delivery system that kept it from achieving its circulation goals. They turned to privatization and, for a lower cost, have improved their performance and their ability to deliver higher quality services to their customers. Seems like a classic win-win to me.

In a time of widespread, growing budget shortfalls in local governments, local officials need to be seeking every opportunity for initiatives along these lines. If they'd only look, they'd be surprised at all the opportunities they can find.

» Reason's Annual Privatization Report 2008
» Reason's Privatization Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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