Mail Services: New and Improved or Smith’s Very Own Black Hole?

Photo by Tziona Breitbart '16 | In the new mail system, mail is placed in a temporary locker and a notification email is sent to students with a locker reference number.

Photo by Tziona Breitbart ’16 | In the new mail system, mail is placed in a temporary locker and a notification email is sent to students with a locker reference number.

Sonali Kumar ’14
Sadaf Ahmad ’17
Contributing Writers

When Smith’s contract with the bookstore ended last semester, the college had a viable excuse to switch mail systems and the opportunity to introduce a private company to the basement of the Campus Center arose. With large numbers of students waiting in lines at lunch time to pick up packages, and two sets of staff  carrying out the same tasks in separate locations, the two systems of Smith’s old mail services – the student mail center in the Campus Center, and the faculty mail center at Facilities Management – Smith’s old mail services seemed inefficient.

In the past, each student was assigned an individual mailbox for all four years, and students were able to check them at any time. If a student received a package, they would find a card in their mailbox, which the student would then take to the mailroom staff to retrieve their package.

With the new system, mail is placed in a temporary locker and a notification email is sent to the student with a locker reference number. According to Controller Laura Smiarowski, consolidation of faculty, staff and student mail was decided upon first. Several months later, the locker system was added to account for the “ever-growing volume of packages received by students.” The student may pick up mail from the locker, which opens silently upon receiving the reference number, at any time the Campus Center is open, and the number expires in thirty-six hours. “The good thing about this system is that you can pick up [your mail] on your own time,” said Chloe Lee ’16. “But I think the time they give you to pick up is too long,” she added, “because there isn’t enough space to serve everyone’s needs.”

The system has received mixed reactions from students, who, on one hand, appreciate the convenience of shorter lines, but, on the other, are nostalgic for the individual mailboxes. A sophomore explained: “I definitely prefer the old system. I love the feeling of being able to open my mailbox with my key and get the mail and especially the ‘You’ve got mail slip! While the new system may provide convenience for package pickup, it takes much longer to actually get my packages, and sometimes I just never get them. One of my packages was delivered on the 7th, but I still haven’t got any package notice.” Lee agreed with this sentiment. “It felt more personalized to have your own mailbox,” she said. She explained that people could leave mail in each other’s boxes, and that it was much easier for students to advertise events and do business using the old system.

Rebecca Schilling ’14 seemed more content with the change. “It is nice that I don’t ever have to go out of my way to check for mail just to find I have none,” she said. “The processing time for the mail is a little annoying (my grandmother got pretty concerned when it took 2.5 weeks for her letter to arrive). But, overall, I am okay with it.” First-year Nicolette Lee also seems ambivalent about the process. “In terms of giving everyone numbers and sending e-mails I think they’re pretty organized, but in terms of efficiency as far as notifying us that our package is there [within] twenty four hours like they say they do, they’re not as efficient.”  Lines to get overflow letters or packages at the pick-up counter during Post Office hours are often long and filled with annoyed students.

In a campus-wide e-mail, Controller Laura Smiarowski apologized for the “poor service, confusion, and frustration” changes to the system have caused. In order to balance efficiency and student satisfaction, 144 lockers are going to be added, which is double the current amount. The amount of packages received daily had been severely underestimated.

A meeting with a consultant with more than twenty years of experience in mail services at colleges like Wellesley has also been arranged to further improve efficiency here at Smith. “The mail expert (consultant) will manage the mail operation beginning on Monday, September 30th.  He will implement changes that will improve mail distribution,” Smiarowski says.  David, a mail services employee, reports that the shortage of mailboxes has increased the number of steps taken to place mail in a student’s hands. In the past, staff were able to directly place mail in a student’s box, but now, mail has to be transferred “from larger boxes to smaller boxes to lockers, and from larger trays to smaller trays.”

“I’ve seen girls flip out at him,” said Alex Grubb ‘15J of this employee. “David works so hard,” agreed Emma Ulriksen ’14.

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