Although we live in an increasingly digitized world, mail remains a vital part of most people’s lives. In fact, while the Internet may drive physical letters into extinction, with email becoming faster and cheaper, the accessibility and convenience of websites like Amazon has had the opposite effect on parcel mail. According to U.S. Postal Service delivery data (which represents a fraction of total U.S. parcel volume), annual parcel volume has more than doubled, from 3.5 billion parcels in 2012 to 7.6 billion parcels in 2021.
Because of this trend, and because online shopping is especially entrenched in the lives of young Americans, Oberlin’s student mailroom still plays a very important role. It is therefore extremely disturbing that the mailroom staff seem constantly overwhelmed since the beginning of this semester. It’s normal for things to be slow and the lines to be long at the start of the school year when all campus offices are getting back up and running and students are ordering books and supplies in droves. However, the courses have been in session for more than a month and this problem is still present. It’s not uncommon to wait in line for more than 15 minutes to pick up a package, and the mailroom is often significantly delayed when it comes to sorting deliveries. In some of my classes, students can’t complete the required reading because their book has already arrived, but the mailroom hasn’t processed it yet.
From an outside perspective, the backlog in the mailroom may seem like a minor annoyance, but Oberlin students depend on this resource. The city of Oberlin has quite a few stores that provide supplies that students may need, but it’s still very limited. The mailroom becomes essential when it comes to getting last-minute winter clothes or buying needed textbooks when the bookstore copies are too expensive or they don’t have the exact book which you need. Beyond that, many students need to receive certain packages in a timely manner, such as medications or contact lenses. Without their orders, some people can’t go about their daily business, which makes creating a more efficient mailroom even more critical.
This concern has not gone unnoticed. During the Wilder Hall renovation talks on October 3, the administration provided information on a number of planned changes to the student mailroom, which are expected to begin during the upcoming winter term. Among these changes is the move from individual mailboxes to larger lockers where letters and packages would be delivered. Apparently, these lockers would hold one courier at a time, but would be shared, and they would be grouped according to package size. Students receiving mail would receive a notification with a locker number and combination and could pick up their delivery any time Wilder is open, potentially replacing the current OCMR system. It is important to note that these proposals have not yet been implemented and the mailroom itself will announce anything official.
These changes have the ability to significantly reduce the pressure on the mailroom. This would allow students to pick up packages at any time convenient for them, potentially preventing a backlog of packages. Also, as deliveries are sent directly to lockers, long queues would be avoided. The proposed locks would certainly be an improvement over the finicky old combination locks now in use, and would be useful to get notification for letters and parcels. However, there are also a host of new complications created by this plan. The phasing out of OCMR numbers is problematic because the number is part of every student’s address and could lead to confusion about where packages, letters, and paychecks are sent. In Wilder’s renovation talk, it was mentioned that whether or not OCMR numbers disappear depends on the mailroom, and it probably won’t result in rerouting errors. However, the ambiguity is still distressing.
It is also unclear how parcels too large to fit in the lockers will be handled and it seems that with each new parcel or letter getting its own locker, the lockers will be constantly full, which does not solve the problem of accumulation of mail from the mailroom. . There has been talk of adding Amazon owned and operated lockers outside of the mailroom, but those additions may not be built in a time frame that would mitigate against fully filling new lockers in the short term. It seems that such upgrades do not solve the root of the problem – the mailroom does not have the resources to sort packages quickly. Unfortunately, a shiny new locker system won’t fix that.
All this to say that despite the renovations that the College may undertake, the number of people who depend on the mailroom is not going to decrease anytime soon. Workers will still need to receive and organize a large number of packages, and students will still have questions about deliveries or need to pick up some packages directly from a staff member. With that in mind, as the mailroom develops its program moving forward, it should consider hiring more workers. It’s not the fault of those working in the mailroom that this is happening – the problem in question is likely one expected with the massive influx of students this year. They’re overwhelmed, but with more hands on deck, things could probably go more smoothly.
One last thing to keep in mind is that we, the students of Oberlin, have some responsibility in this matter. It’s all too common for students to wait to pick up their deliveries until they have multiple packages in the mailroom or to go on shopping sprees on Amazon – actions that contribute to the deluge of packages that has challenged the hall. mail this year. In addition to changing things in the mailroom, we also need to change things, whether that means buying only what we believe is absolutely essential or buying locally before turning to online resources. It is only thanks to the cooperation between the students and the administration that the mail will always be available on time.