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Postal cuts: 5 Montana libraries forming next-day delivery courier system

JUSTIN POST Montana Standard

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Jan. 17, 2012

BUTTE - The Missoula Public Library and four Montana counterparts are banding together amidst cuts to the U.S. Postal Service to form their own courier system with next-day delivery in most instances.

The system, organized by Butte Public Library Director Lee Phillips, is expected to significantly cut costs for inter-library loan services while also offering speedy delivery.

It also promotes a Butte business, Phillips said.

"It offers faster service, costs less money, supports a local business and partners government with private industry, which is a win-win for taxpayers and the patron," she said.

The five libraries - Butte, Great Falls, Missoula, Lewis and Clark Library in Helena and the Hearst Free Library in Anaconda - now will ship books and other items through an agreement with Critelli Courier Service in Butte.

Critelli charges the libraries $20 to transport up to five crates per stop, each large enough to carry about 20 items, Phillips said.

The Butte library, which starts service through Critelli on Friday, plans to ship a minimum of three crates per week.

Critelli employees pick up the crates to be sorted and processed for delivery along one of its 17 routes, said Colette Critelli, director of the company's Butte operations.

"Quite honestly, we can do same day (delivery) because we cover so much territory," she said. "Same day and next day is our big push."

Critelli opened in 2006 and employs 32 people in Butte. It also operates a hub in Billings.

Phillips has $4,700 in her budget for postal charges, but now plans to use that money toward the courier service and says savings are anticipated.

"It will cost us half of what it would cost us to mail it, so we can literally send twice as many items with the same budgeted amount of money," Phillips said.

At the same time, Phillips said USPS cuts are delaying delivery to patrols.

"We're paying more and getting less service, so we needed to have a backup plan," she said.

Phillips explained that the library's cost to mail an item to a customer is normally $3 or $4, not including labor costs.

On the low end, it would cost Phillips roughly $60 to mail 20 items through the inter-library loan system, where a patron in another part of the state orders an item that isn't on the shelves at their hometown library.

That cost would drop to $20 for those same 20 items under the courier program, Phillips said.

Phillips said she hopes more Montana libraries sign onto the system, with the eventual goal of linking into regional courier services offering library patrons access to library materials throughout the Pacific Northwest.

"We're hoping to have all Montana libraries on the system within a year," she said.

Reporter Justin Post may be reached at or (406)496-5572. Follow him at