A ride on the bookmobile

At 2:30 a.m., around the time many Yalies finally tuck themselves into bed, Lenny Gaudino’s day is only beginning.

On any given weekday, Gaudino is awake in the wee hours of the morning to start his daily routine with some light jogging. His job doesn’t require him to wake up early, but he picked up the habit, he said, because of his father’s military background.

Gaudino’s daily route takes him across campus, hauling loads of books.
Gaudino’s daily route takes him across campus, hauling loads of books.
Lenny Gaudino drives one of Eli Express’s delivery trucks daily.
Lenny Gaudino drives one of Eli Express’s delivery trucks daily.

“My girlfriend’s not too happy with me,” he jokes. “But it’s the only time I really get to myself.”

On a brisk Wednesday morning this past month, Gaudino was raring to go, even though he had attended the previous night’s Misfits concert at Toad’s Place, causing him to stay up for an hour past his usual 9 p.m. bedtime.

For Gaudino, work truly begins at 8 a.m., when he reports to the Shipping and Receiving Room inside Sterling Memorial Library, a tiny, aging office protected by a huge wire mesh gate, accessible only through a side entrance on Wall Street. A few minutes before nine o’clock, he loads up a 1.5-ton white delivery truck and leaves for his first stop: the Library Shelving Facility three miles away in Hamden, where more than a quarter of the Yale University Library’s 12.5 million volumes are kept.

It’s not magic that makes requested books appear at the Sterling circulation desk; it’s Gaudino and the three library staff members who operate Eli Express, the University Library service that delivers books and materials to one of 12 library locations on campus where students, faculty and staff can retrieve them. Eli Express processes 1,500 to 2,000 volumes on a typical day — about a quarter million per year — according to an estimate by Anthony Ferraiolo, University Library manager of shipping and receiving.

***

After picking up hundreds of volumes from LSF, Gaudino continues on a two-hour roundabout journey across Yale’s campus, from the Divinity School Library beyond Science Hill to the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library in the south of town. He packed the Eli Express truck with “totes” — large blue bins containing as many as 50 books each — then locked the truck’s back door and cruised down Winchester Avenue, the colors of autumn in full display through the truck’s large windshield.

Eli Express wasn’t always so organized. It was founded in September 1994, when students were still required to check out books from the specific library where they were kept, Associate University Librarian Danuta Nitecki said. The service was created after staff reinterpreted the interlibrary system that transported returned books to their proper locations, allowing users to request the delivery of library items to the locations of their choice.

“We realized that we could retrieve an item for you through an automated system and have it delivered,” Nitecki said.

While the program provided a valuable service on campus, there were still kinks to be worked out over time, Nitecki explained. In February 2003, the library made strides toward shortening the amount of time needed to transport materials. Changes involved the redrawing of driver itineraries, the pre-sorting of materials into totes before departure and an increasing from one to two delivery routes per day.

Today, items are sent to their target locations within 24 hours instead of the two to three days needed before the enhancements.

“We did a lot of analysis,” Nitecki said. “And we ended up really delighting people.”

Having once completed his route in a rapid 90 minutes — 15 minutes sooner than the previous record — Gaudino is the unofficial titleholder for quickest delivery shift, an accomplishment he attributes to his ruthless efficiency and the long strides in his step. A tall man with strong arms, Gaudino clamors gingerly out of his truck so as not to waste time.

“I try to always get it done in two hours or less,” he said. “All I can say to you is to be careful where you walk.”

Still, no matter how fast Gaudino is driving, the library can now track all volumes he transports. In 2008, the library introduced a variety of changes regarding the delivery of special collection materials. Staff can now track the whereabouts of the delivery trucks through GPS receivers, and security seals and padlocks protect the service’s containers and vehicles.

***

After a 15-minute ride, Gaudino’s truck arrived at LSF, a vast rectangular white building that holds 3.3 million 0f Yale’s volumes. Nearly half of all volumes transported via Eli Express pass through the facility.

Gaudino made quick work of this first stop — the busiest one of his day — returning some volumes he brought with him and then sorting the books that must be taken from LSF into the blue totes on the truck.

The decision to add new security measures was preemptive, explained Michael DiMassa, manager of the Library Shelving Facility. Although the improvements were not spurred by any losses of volumes, library staff had been concerned about the items’ delivery to unsecured locations like circulation desks where books are out in the open, he said.

“A lot of this was prompted by the fact that the Beinecke [Library] will be shelving material at LSF,” DiMassa explained. “We want to make sure that we have the highest security for those items.”

Coming down Science Hill from LSF, Gaudino stopped his truck in front of a ‘No Parking’ sign by Mudd Library on the site of the new colleges.

“I do things different from the other guys,” he bragged. “This way, I don’t have to get around that construction on Prospect Street, and I can just backtrack to Social Sciences.”

Though Mudd Library is closed to visitors, soon to be demolished to make way for two new residential colleges, users can request its holdings through Orbis, the University Library’s online catalog.

***

While Gaudino works quickly and follows the same route each day, he said he always keeps his eyes open to his surroundings. On his way to the Forestry Library in the basement of Kroon Hall, he scoffed upon seeing a man with a Yankees hat — Gaudino is a Red Sox fan. At another point, he whizzed past two employees at the Medical School Library on their breaks.

“That guy’s complaining about how many floors he has to mop,” he laughed, “when he’s standing outside smoking a cigarette.”

Though predictable, the day-to-day Eli Express routine also depends on the changing needs of library users. The busiest days are Mondays — since the trucks don’t run on weekends — predictably, usage increases as the two-week span of reading period and final exams approaches, Ferraiolo, the manager of shipping and receiving, said.

Graduate students are the heaviest users of Eli Express, placing 42 percent of all paging requests, DiMassa said. Undergraduates, particularly seniors, account for another 20 percent, with faculty and staff largely composing the remainder of users.

Nearly two-thirds of items are delivered to Sterling and Bass Libraries — 47 and 18 percent, respectively, DiMassa said. The Arts and Architecture and Social Science libraries are also relatively popular, but all other locations each receive less than 1 percent of materials, he said.

After hitting the major campus libraries, Gaudino reached the Law Library, his last stop of the morning, at 10:48 a.m. — not bad, by his standards, he said. At 1:00 p.m. he began all over again, adding the Geology and Math Libraries to his route.

Four library staff members interviewed said they are pleased with the development of the Eli Express system so far, but DiMassa identified several possible future changes to the service, such as better containers for transport of materials and the construction of vehicle loading docks.

Also of some concern, he said, is the creation of an office that would unify both parts of the service: the general collection items delivered from the Sterling shipping room and the special collections delivered separately by LSF staff.

But despite this room for improvement, some basic benefits from Eli Express are constant, Gaudino said.

“There’s so much heavy lifting, you lose weight doing this,” he said. “It’s great.”

Esther Zuckerman contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Yale ’08

    Hate to be a pedantic grammarian, but you can’t clamor “gingerly” out of a truck “so as not to waste time”. Clamor and gingerly are pretty much contrary to one another in tone. Otherwise, great article!

  • grad student

    Mr. Gaudino, thank you for what you do. I really appreciate being able to request a book and have it almost delivered to my office within 24 hours – it makes the research so much easier. You should know that the grad students love you!

  • Yale

    Thank You, Lenny!!

  • grad alum

    i knew the yale library, and the staff like mr gaudino, were great when i was a student at yale. like @grad student, i also appreciated, in fact loved, being able to request a book and, like magic, it would appear 24 hours later. but it wasnt “magic.” it was through the hard work of the yale library’s staff like mr. gaudino. thank you very much! i appreciate all your work. thank you for letting me do my work.

  • def

    so he really did see me all those times he ran red lights and nearly knocked me down crossing the road? This excuse for a man should be disciplined. Hard.

  • Gloria

    So when will this fantastic service benefit those at West Campus?