The Man Behind The Van: A Look Inside The Interlibrary Loan System

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Catherine Creedon, executive director of John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, greets Suffolk Cooperative Library System Senior Driver Tyrell Jasper as he makes a stop on his route. MICHAEL HELLER

Tyrell Jasper closes his eyes, leaning back in the driver’s seat as an audio book plays softly in the background. The North Ferry rumbles beneath him, somewhere between Shelter Island and Greenport, a crisp sea breeze swirling around his unmistakable, bright blue van.

Along its side, the wrap reads, “Public Libraries of Suffolk County” — hinting at the service the vehicle and Mr. Jasper, senior driver for the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, provide. But for many who don’t know him, his job remains a mystery, as do the inner-workings of the interlibrary loan system.

Every year, 2.1 million books, DVDs and CDs are shared between the 56 public libraries in Suffolk County, shuffled between buildings by Mr. Jasper and seven other couriers who, quite literally, drive the engine behind the machine.

“I benefit from it all the time,” said Jacqueline Marks, archivist and librarian at the Amagansett Free Library. “If I need an out-of-print book, or an older book, or a book that a library up island has that we don’t have, all I have to do is ask for it. I get it in my mailbox and it’s like a miracle.”

The interlibrary loan process typically starts with the patron, explained Roger Reyes, assistant director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. By placing a hold on a book, the interlibrary software sources it from the nearest location, tapping a shared catalogue that can see every collection.

“Given the small- and medium-sized libraries on the East End, this is just so valuable to us because, given our budgets, we just could not purchase some of these items,” said Liz Burns, director of Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton. “It wouldn’t be cost-effective or responsible for us to get it.”

A ticket is sent to the loaning library, prompting a page to pluck the book from a shelf, scan it — indicating that it’s being borrowed — and place it in a bin, where it now waits for the designated driver, who will bring it to the SCLS sorting room in Bellport to be organized.

That’s where Mr. Jasper comes in.

Suffolk Cooperative Library System Senior Driver Tyrell Jasper makes a stop at Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.

His day starts between 4:30 and 4:45 a.m. at home in Shirley, where the father of four raises his children, ages 16, 13, 9 and 7. By 5:30 a.m., he reports to SCLS to load up his van with bins intended for the 17 libraries on his East End route and, an hour later, he is on his way — a drive committed to muscle memory after more than a decade navigating these roads.

“I’ve been doing it for 15 years,” Mr. Jasper said, noting that he took over the East End route six years ago. “It seems like a lot for a 34-year-old, but I started early. Of course, I start everything early — I had kids early. So with the kids being born early, straight out of high school, I had to get to work.”

His first stop is Westhampton Free Library in Westhampton Beach, followed by Quogue Library, Hampton Bays Public Library, Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, and Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. At each, he drops off bins containing both requested loans and returned borrows, and picks up any bins waiting for him.

“Volume wise, those are the smallest volume libraries,” Mr. Reyes said, “but it’s the largest volume of stops.”

The journey continues to East Hampton Library, Amagansett Free Library, Montauk Library and loops back down to John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, before boarding the South Ferry to Shelter Island Public Library.

“I mean, it’s like a dream come true,” Mr. Jasper said of riding the ferry. “If you ever want to be on the water every day and pretend like you’re on a 30-foot yacht, then this is the ideal job for you. I literally can close my eyes and I go away, like I’m in an oasis.”

He sighed dreamily to himself. “Most of the time in the summer, I like to spend a lot of time outside the vehicle on the ferry — just taking it all in, just whatever it is,” he continued. “That is one of the best parts of my job, that I get to take two ferries every day.”

On her way to work in Southampton, Ms. Burns also takes the ferry in the opposite direction from her home in Southold, and will often pass Mr. Jasper on his way to the North Fork. Whenever she catches his eye, she is always sure to wave, she said.

“We love Tyrell! We love him,” she said. “He is just an unbelievably friendly, always positive, helpful person. He always has a smile on his face. And from what I hear, he is one of the most dependable employees, from the library system’s perspective — just an awesome guy.”

Outside of some frustrating seasonal traffic, Mr. Jasper said he loves driving his route and spending the majority of his days in the Hamptons — as long as he comes prepared.

“The summertime is mayhem, it’s complete chaos — which is fun, it’s fun chaos,” he said. “Driving around, it’s almost like living the Hamptons life without actually having to live out there, minus the expense. I don’t order lunch out there — I’m sorry. It’s past my budget.”

Inside the van, he keeps his personal effects to a minimum, outside of a few toiletries, air fresheners — “People always say how good my truck smells,” he said — and a photo of his late aunt that he keeps on his dashboard.

“Nothing too crazy, just me and my big ol’ smile inside the van, that’s it,” Mr. Jasper said. “That’s the only personal thing I have.”

After disembarking the North Ferry, he caps off his route with Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport, Southold Free Library, Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library, Mattituck-Laurel Library, Riverhead and Baiting Hollow Free Libraries, and North Shore Public Library in Shoreham, before returning to SCLS drop off his bins — a 150-mile day, minimum.

“It’s a lot, but it’s not as many stops as UPS has,” Mr. Jasper said. “I’ll always bump into the same UPS driver, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I got 240 stops.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, dude!’ They may not carry as much as I have, but they do a lot of stops. It’s pretty extreme, if you ask me.”

Once SCLS receives the bins from all drivers — which, pre-COVID, ran five routes, six days a week, that totaled 60 stops and covered 900 square miles — they are sorted and prepped for pickup the following morning, when the cycle repeats itself, allowing for a 24- to 48-hour turnaround for most requested items.

“You can borrow a book from a library that’s 5 miles away and you’re gonna get it the same time as you’d get one from 57 miles away,” Mr. Reyes said, noting that SCLS also has a reciprocal relationship with the Nassau Library System. “We can reach into their catalogue and borrow from them, as well.”

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, and libraries begin reopening their doors, the SCLS interlibrary loan system will return to its full-time schedule, perhaps as early as next week — allowing library patrons quicker access to their requests.

“They’re always very excited when their hold comes in,” said Corinne Page, head of circulation at Amagansett Free Library. “Sometimes a patron will say, ‘How does this stuff get here?’ Like, no, I’m not driving my car everywhere to get it. They don’t know that it’s a whole system of vans.”

For Mr. Jasper, the driving comes easily — but developing interpersonal skills to communicate with librarians and staff was an obstacle for the self-described introvert.

It has also proven to be unexpectedly rewarding, he said.

“The challenge is the most enjoyable thing — you know, the things that actually help me grow,” he said. “I really owe a lot to my job that I’m able to speak to people and get out and be comfortable around all different kinds of people.”

If he isn’t tuning into classical music on his route — “It’s the vibe out there, I just imagine myself driving in a Rolls-Royce,” he said — Mr. Jasper is listening to an audio book in the van. These days, his focus is personal development, motivation and meditation from authors like Earl Nightingale and Bob Proctor, as well as Abraham-Hicks teachings.

“I’m like a flower,” he said. “I’m just sittin’ in that van, so I’ve gotta grow somehow.”

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