Lawrence Walsh: 'Media mail' cheapest way to send books to your friends

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Jane Rosenberger of Beaver County has been an avid reader since the days of Dick, Jane and Spot at St. George School in Allentown.

Her daughter, Georganne, who recently moved to San Francisco, also loves to read.

Mother and daughter used to swap books at each other's homes.

Now they use the mail.

That wasn't a problem until mother discovered she was paying more than she had to to send good reads across the country.

She used the post office in Beaver and the one in Sewickley.

"I noticed I was charged two different rates to send books that weighed almost the same," said Rosenberger, 67. "I paid about $3 or $4 to send a book in Beaver and only about $1 in Sewickley. I know it's only a few dollars, but . . ."

Customer-clerk cooperation is the way to get the best rate.

When a customer goes into the post office with a package, postal clerks are trained to ask if it contains something fragile, perishable or potentially hazardous. If it does, it requires special handling.

Customers then are asked how soon they want it to arrive.

"At that point, the clerks know how best to advise the customer," said Diana Svoboda, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service.

Once upon a time the post office offered a book rate customers could use to save money. It now is called media mail. It applies to books, film, manuscripts, sound recordings, videotapes and "computer media" that includes compact discs, digital video discs and diskettes.

Although the sender isn't required to print "media" on the package, it probably wouldn't hurt. It's also a good idea to tell the clerk it is media mail.

But don't place a note, letter or any other material in the package or you won't be eligible for the media rate. Yes, that means you're on the honor system. Honor it.

In a letter to the local postmaster's office, Rosenberger complained about the higher rate she was charged. A customer service representative called her. They discussed the questions counter clerks are supposed to ask.

Rosenberger said the representative told her that clerks aren't instructed to ask customers if they are mailing a book or anything else that would qualify for the media mail rate.

"I think they should," she said.

As a test, I called the postal service's toll-free number: 1-800-275-8777.

When I finally reached someone after pressing my way through the automated options, I asked how much it would cost to send a 2-pound book from a Pittsburgh ZIP code to a California ZIP code.

She said it would cost $4.49 for parcel post and $5.75 for priority mail. She didn't mention the media rate, so I did.

"Oh, the media rate would be $1.84," she said.

It was just another example that shows it pays to be a pro-active consumer.

But don't expect postal clerks to be mind-readers or have X-ray vision. If the package you're sending meets the criteria for the media rate, tell them.

And, if this is the first time you've heard about media mail, thank Rosenberger for posting her problem, especially if you can use it to send something to family members who forgot to pack it before they left home for school.

Mt. Lebanon tree update: Terri Windstein, Mt. Lebanon's assistant finance director, said six claims have been filed against the municipality from April 2000 through April 2003 for damage caused by falling branches.

She said the St. Paul Insurance Co., which insures Mt. Lebanon in such cases, has paid a total of $880 to settle some of those claims. The company pays only an individual's deductible. Anything beyond that is to be paid by the insurance company that covers an individual's car or home.

Mt. Lebanon residents should report hazardous tree conditions to the public works department by calling 412-343-3403. If it's an emergency, call 911. Residents also may want to follow up with a certified letter.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895.


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