College Acknowledges Need for Mailroom Renovation

Although we are living in an increasingly digitized world, mail is still a vital part of most people’s lives. In fact, while the internet may be propelling physical letters toward extinction with email becoming faster and cheaper,  the accessibility and convenience of websites like Amazon has had the opposite effect on package mail. According to data about the United States Postal Service’s deliveries (which is a fraction of America’s total package volume), the yearly package 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 ingrained in the lives of young Americans, Oberlin’s student mailroom still plays a very important role. It’s therefore extremely troubling that the mailroom staff have seemed to be consistently overwhelmed since the start of this semester. It’s normal for things to be slow and lines to be long at the beginning of the school year when every office on campus is getting back into the swing of things and students are ordering books and supplies en masse. However, classes have been in session for over a month and this problem is still ongoing. It’s not uncommon to wait in line for over 15 minutes to pick up a package, and the mailroom is often significantly delayed when it comes to sorting through deliveries. In some of my classes, students are unable to complete the required readings because their book has already arrived, but the mailroom hasn’t processed it yet.

From an outside view, the backlog in the mailroom may seem like a minor annoyance, but Oberlin students depend on this resource. The town of Oberlin does have quite a few shops that provide supplies students may need, but it’s still very limited. The mailroom becomes pivotal when it comes to getting last-minute winter clothes or buying necessary textbooks when the bookstore’s copies are too overpriced or it doesn’t have the exact book you require. Beyond that, there are many students who need to receive certain packages in a timely manner, such as medication or contact lenses. Without their orders, some people cannot go about their daily lives, which makes the creation of a more efficient mailroom even more critical.

This concern has not gone unnoticed. At the Wilder Hall renovation talks on Oct. 3, the administration provided information about a number of planned changes in the student mailroom, slated to begin over the upcoming Winter Term. Among these changes is the switch from individual mailboxes to larger lockers where letters and packages would be delivered. Apparently, these lockers would hold one piece of mail at a time but would be shared, and they would be grouped based on package size. Students receiving mail would get 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 set into motion, and that the mailroom itself will announce anything official.

These modifications have the capacity to significantly reduce the strain that has been forced upon the mailroom. It would allow students to pick up packages at any time convenient for them, potentially preventing a buildup of packages. Additionally, with deliveries being sent straight to lockers, long lines would be avoided. The proposed locks would definitely be an improvement over the old, finicky combination locks currently in use, and it would be helpful to get a notification for letters and packages. However, there’s also a host of new complications created by this plan. The prospective phasing out of OCMR numbers is problematic because the number is part of every student’s address and could lead to some confusion regarding where packages, letters, and paychecks are sent. In the Wilder renovation talk, it was mentioned that whether or not OCMR numbers will disappear is up to the mailroom, and it likely won’t lead to rerouting errors. However, the ambiguity is still distressing. 

It’s also unclear how packages that are too large to fit in the lockers will be dealt with and it seems that with each new package or letter getting its own locker, the lockers will be constantly full, which doesn’t solve the mailroom’s mail buildup problem. There was mention of the addition of lockers owned and operated by Amazon outside of the mailroom, but these additions may not be built in a time frame that would mitigate the complete fill-up of the new lockers in the short term. It appears that such upgrades don’t address the root of the problem — the mailroom doesn’t have the resources to sort through packages quickly. Unfortunately, a shiny new locker system isn’t going to solve that.

All of this is to say that despite any renovations that the College may proceed with, the number of people who rely on the mailroom isn’t going to decrease anytime soon. Workers will still have to receive and organize large numbers of packages, and students will still have questions about deliveries or need to collect certain packages directly from a staff member. With this in mind, while the mailroom is crafting their agenda moving forward, it should consider hiring more workers. It’s not the fault of those who work in the mailroom that this is happening — the issue at hand is likely an expected one with the massive influx of students this year. They’re overwhelmed, but with more hands on deck, things would likely be able to run more smoothly.

One final thing to bear 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 several packages in the mailroom or to go on Amazon shopping sprees — actions which contribute to the deluge of packages that has challenged the mailroom this year. In addition to the mailroom changing things up, we need to change things up too, whether that means only purchasing what we feel is absolutely essential or shopping locally before turning to online resources. It is only through cooperation between the students and the administration that mail will consistently be available on time.