Eli Express, Yale’s intra-library delivery service, was launched in September of 1994 and was conceived of as a means of providing patrons with an extra measure of convenience by allowing them to page, pickup and return books belonging to many of the Yale libraries at other designated units within the library system. From its very inception, Eli Express proved to be a very popular enhancement to patron services. The number of volumes transported by Eli Express rapidly grew over its first several years of operation, finally topping 200K items in 2003. This continual increase in traffic along with the opening of the Library Shelving Facility in 1998, however, ultimately presented the service with two serious challenges. The original service commitment for Eli Express which had called for delivery of a requested item within 48 hours proved problematic for, as the service’s popularity grew, so too did the demand for speedier deliveries. Moreover, since it was initially conceived of as a means to transport bound volumes only, the Eli Express was not designed to transport archival boxes and other sorts of special collections materials that were being shelved in ever-increasing numbers off-campus in Hamden.
To meet challenge of timeliness, a process improvement initiative was undertaken in 2003. The focus of that effort was improving timeliness of delivery by decreasing the service’s turnaround time (defined as the time that elapses between the initiation of a request by a reader and the reception of an e-mail announcing availability at the designated pickup location). The objective of the first Eli Express Process Improvement team was to discover the means of establishing a delivery service commitment of 24 hours or less. This goal was achieved by implementing several basic changes to the service, including new routing for the truck, a more ambitious delivery schedule that mandated stopping twice twice-a-day at most participating libraries, and rudimentary sorting of materials by participating libraries.