An Open Letter to TUBDFTL Patrons

As I've been plodding along and gradually dealing with the accumulated backlog I've had a fair amount of time to consider the bottlenecks in the operation of the Library and consider possible solutions. Rather than implement procedural changes and hope for the best, I thought it might be prudent to share my observations and conclusions so that you might have the opportunity to participate in the restructuring of the Library through any input you might care to provide.

First, a bit of background information on Library patrons. The number of Library patrons passed the 500 mark this month. Though that number is slightly inflated due to the inevitable "double dippers," it's not too far off. Of those, a little less than 90% are from the United States. Nearly 95% have Internet access and communicate through E-Mail. Attrition appears to be close to nil and not a day passes with out one or two new patrons tendering requests.

As to the actual operation of the Library, the daily routine begins at about five o'clock with the feeding of the two dual well dubbing decks that remain operational. After quaffing a cup of coffee and performing my toilet, I respond to E-Mail that accumulated overnight. Tape liners are printed as needed and tapes that were dubbed prior to retiring the previous evening are prepared for posting. Patrons with E-mail facilities are notified that their tapes have been dubbed and are on the way and the Library database is updated accordingly.

The dubbing decks are fed throughout the day and parcels are packed as the tapes are completed. With the three o'clock arrival of the day's post, the Library can expect to receive a dozen or more parcels. On average, each parcel contains two tapes. The parcels are opened and the contents examined. Any that require special treatment (more on these in a bit) chucked into a corner to be dealt with as time permits. The remainder are sorted according to the number of tapes within (All single tape requests being serviced first, two tape requests next and so on.) and, utilizing the printed acknowledgement as a work order, are added to the dubbing queue. Depending on the number of parcels received and inevitable interruptions, I'm usually done by half past three or four o'clock at which time I close up shop. Typically, I'll check on the dubbing decks periodically and feed them as needed until half past seven or so.

For the most part, the above routine proceeds smoothly and is reasonably efficient. However, a number of bottlenecks pop up with such frequency that the cause is easily identified. The culprits fall into three major categories; poor communications; patrons that fail to follow instructions; and special requests.

E-mail is generally the most efficient means of communicating. As the Library is computerized, E-mail provides a built in audit trail and, as response is usually immediate, potential problems are usually nipped in the bud. The most notable exceptions are dealings with those that have the misfortune to subscribe to one of the less reliable Internet Service Providers (AOL and MSN jump immediately to mind). It is not at all uncommon to have responses to their E-mail refused and returned undelivered for hours on end. Inevitably, a few just fall through the cracks. Telephone communications work quite well and are immediate, but have the disadvantage of expense and of frequently being disruptive. Unlike E-mail, which can be dealt with when convenient and as time permits, telephone calls must generally be dealt with when received and generate no audit trail. Regular mail is a last resort. Slow, inefficient, and time consuming, I generally process such communications but once every several weeks at best.

If not the greatest cause of headaches, certainly the most aggravating requests to deal with are from those patrons that fail to follow instructions. Tapes of the wrong length; tapes unaccompanied by an acknowledgement; tapes without cases; new tapes with cellophane wrappers intact; and parcels that contain cheques, money orders, cash, or whatever, in lieu of providing a self addressed return mailer with postage affixed or IRCs; all demand individual treatment. Some patrons would even appear to be so lazy as to decline to scribble a return address on the return mailer.

Finally we come to the issue of special requests. They can range from requests that tapes be dubbed at a particular recording level to putting together a tape with every version of Patti Smith sharing the stage on Dark Eyes. The most frequent exceptions sought are requests for specific filler on the last few minutes of the B side of Tape II and requests to send money rather than postage or, in the case of overseas patrons, IRCs. All of which have to be responded to with a "Sorry, but ..." Granted, not a biggie, but time consuming and a minor irritant when I've thirty or so other messages to respond to before seven in the morning.

As I see it, apart from the sheer volume of requests, the crux of the problem comes down to the efficient use of time. In addition to the simple mechanics of dubbing tapes and getting them out the door without undue delay, new material has to be listened to, catalogued, and prepared for inclusion in the library's listings. There is also a good deal of work to be done to include videos in the Library's offerings.

With that in mind, it is my intent to remove those from the Library's roles that have been unable to follow directions and resume accepting requests, from those that remain, around the middle of May. Others that are likely to find Library privileges revoked include, but are by no means limited to, double dippers; two for one traders, and those that have deliberately misled the Librarian. There will be no explanations, justifications, or appeals. I've already wasted more time on them than I should have.

Regular Library patrons will be allowed a single audio or video selection each month, up to a limit of twelve tapes per year. For example, Renaldo and Clara is on two 120 VHS tapes and will count as a single selection, but two tapes would be deducted from your annual allotment.

Those that have the facilities and inclination to take on some of the workload by spinning a few tapes each month for others will be encouraged to make themselves known. The Library will be actively seeking volunteer librarians in the months to come. In the meanwhile, please consider the above and pass along any comments or suggestions. Though you may not receive a response, you are assured that your observations will be carefully considered and may well affect the future direction of the Library!
Thank you and Take Care!

Open Letter Archive
The Unofficial Bob Dylan Free Tape Library