Jan Miles, president of the Sullivan County Imagination Library, looks into one of the offerings in the children’s section of the Colonial Heights branch of the Sullivan County Library. David Grace photo.
Imagination Library books that are delivered to the wrong address are now being shredded by the United States Postal Service instead of volunteers being allowed to pick them up.
For years, the USPS would allow volunteers with Imagination Library to reclaim the books. That started to change about a year ago.
“It has been a year-long process where the post office would no longer allow volunteers to pick up books,” said Theresa Carl, president of Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, a partner with Imagination Library. “Since 2008, the post office would allow volunteers to pick up the books and we would change the address so books wouldn’t be sent to the wrong address.”
Once the books were picked up, volunteers would try to deliver the books to the owners or donate them to places that served children.
The USPS said setting the books aside was a service it was not being paid for and therefore had to stop.
“The Postal Service appreciates Imagination Library’s business and acknowledges its service to the community,” David Walton, USPS corporate communications spokesman said in an emailed statement. “However, the Postal Service cannot offer a free service to one organization when other organizations and businesses are paying for the same services.”
The USPS started shredding the books in December 2012 without giving Imagination Library any warning it was going to occur, according to Carl. After talking with the Tennessee district USPS group, officials with Imagination Library reached out to Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker for help.
Alexander spoke with the assistant postmaster general in Washington and was able to get an agreement for the post office to stop shredding books for six months so the parties could work out an agreement.
The two sides kept in regular contact.
“Nine months ago the Postal Service afforded a six-month grace period to Imagination Library, allowing it to pick up its undeliverable books at local post offices in Tennessee free-of-charge rather than requiring it to pay for proper return services,” Walton said in the statement. “During the six-month period, the Postal Service held regular telecom/meetings with Imagination Library to help it reduce the amount of its undeliverable-as-addressed mail.”
The post office took the position that Imagination Library should pay a service endorsement and classify the books as first-class mail.
Carl said the cost was too much.
“The cost is double what the actual book costs,” she said. “We would have to pay anywhere between $2 per book to $5 per book. The system could not bear that burden.”
The post office would ask Imagination Library to pay the first-class rate based on weight.
Carl said they asked the USPS for a cost analysis of why it costs them more for volunteers to pick up the books instead of the books being destroyed.
Carl is encouraging any family that has enrolled for Imagination Library to be sure and change their address if they move. She said it can be done on Imagination Library’s website.
The organization ships about 200,000 books a month in Tennessee and about 700,000 books a month around the country.
Imagination Library is hoping Alexander or Corker can do something to help them.
Carl is still holding out hope for a solution because she doesn’t want to see new books destroyed.
“We do a lot of business with the post office,” she said. “I’m hopeful that at some point they will work something out.”