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While students probably wouldn't recognize the five University telephone operators if they met them on the street, their voices might ring a bell. Just dial 898-5000. They are the five women who let their fingers do the walking every day, answering inquisitive callers' questions and transferring hundreds of phone calls within the University each week. And while they currently plow through the stream of phone calls at their cramped office everyday using antiquated phone consoles and huge stacks of computer printouts, the operators are set to completely upgrade their system starting next year. According to Eileen Joseph, the office manager of the University's Department of Telecommunications, "the new system is designed to take our operators into the 21st century." "It'll be a huge database system which will make work for them much easier," she added. "This will enable us to provide the best possible service in the most expedient manner." But with operators like 61-year-old University Information veteran Nettie Altoonian, administrators may want to consider if the computer system could work any faster than she could. Altoonian, a University operator for 28 years, said she is hesitant about abandoning a "tried and true system," but added that "it wouldn't hurt to learn a new system." This would not be the first time Altoonian would have had to adapt to "modern" technology. She remembers when the operators worked in the basement of College Hall using the now-extinct "cord-boards" to connect calls. But at their present office at 42nd and Pine streets, the operators spend much of their time shuffling through reams of paper -- looking up and forcing most operators to memorize popular phone numbers, such as the Admissions Office, President Sheldon Hackney's Office and even Smokey Joe's Tavern. This memorization causes unique confrontations between operators and the faceless people whose numbers they discharge. When Altoonian first met Office Manager Joseph two months ago, Altoonian's first words were, "Oh! You're 7021!" And despite the repetitive work of being a University operator, they said their life is not solely composed of seven-digit numbers. "Lauren Bacall's son. . . used to go to school here," Altoonian said. "So did Candice Bergen. We used to get calls from their parents every once in a while. Why, just last week, Dr. Ruth called." And they are ready for nearly anything. For instance, should there ever be a power outage, operators can manually install in seconds special emergency phones which bypass the main electrical current and will function in the event of a blackout. However, Altoonian recalls one incident when students protested at the University and surrounded College Hall in the 1960s -- barring operators from entering the building and shutting down the University's information headquarters. While Joseph said that being a University operator is a thankless job, Altoonian said she gets satisfaction just from helping unprepared students deal with a sometimes overwhelming college life. "I'm always willing to help the students," Altoonian said. "They come here not knowing the crazy addresses of all the buildings, and I try to help them out." "[The operators] are such an integral part of the University," Joseph said. "Yet they are virtually ignored and unappreciated." And while some students like Wharton junior Kevin Pollack said that he has "never heard of them," others like College sophomore Jessica Lind said the operators provide a valuable service to the University. "I use it to get phone numbers when I don't have directory nearby," Lind said.

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