Ma Bell's minions have been delivering the latest edition of the telephone directory--in my case, for Northern Virginia. And it's quite a different book from the one it replaces.

Instead of individual line listings for, say, "Smith, Adam . . . ," "Smith, Barbara . . . ," "Smith, Charles . . . ," and so on, it has a master heading for "SMITH" followed by given names in alphabetical order. Previously used in other cities, the new format was introduced locally last fall in the Maryland Suburban directory.

The new format saves space and thereby reduces costs for the C&P Telephone Co., by eliminating many entries that formerly required two lines, according to C&P spokesman Web Chamberlin. It will be adopted for the forthcoming D.C. directory as well.

My own informal survey of acquaintances indicates it's no smash hit . . . , but one suspects, in part, that's because of unfamiliarity.

However, there really are some problems. The books are divided into two white-paper sections, labeled "residence" and "business--professional--organizational," and one blue-paper section, "government." Unfortunately, many governmental agencies are not listed in the government section, for example: Metro, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and Maryland's Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. They're in the business pages.

Schools are all mucked up. In some communities, such as Falls Church, they're under government, while in others, such as adjacent Fairfax County, they're listed in the business section. Fortunately, in the latter case, there's a cross-reference.