In retrospect, it was inevitable: In an era when hardly anyone sends letters on paper and many students can barely even be bothered to check their e-mail, Lehigh University has put its 5,000 campus mailboxes up for sale and switched to a high-tech mail-storage system that is the postal equivalent of compact shelving for libraries.
The system was adopted as the campus post office moved to a new location in a residential and retail complex called Campus Square, which is home to the university bookstore and a fast-food outlet as well as to about 250 students. Instead of holding mail in boxes that—with their corridors—took up about 6,000 square feet, the post office has switched to a rolling-shelving system that fits in a 10-by-14-foot space and houses 5,500 expandable file folders.
As a student’s letter mail is deposited in the appropriate folder, a bar-code reader sends the student an e-mail alert. Students swipe their ID cards as they enter the facility, cueing employees to bring the mail to the counter to be picked up.
University officials say devoting less space to mailboxes allows them to accommodate more of the packages students are having delivered from online retailers. The facility also accepts outgoing FedEx and UPS packages and offers copying, faxing, scanning, and shredding services.
The facility is, however, more labor-intensive than the old campus post office, requiring six employees instead of just two. The university outsourced the operation to Ricoh, an office-equipment-and-services company.
The University of Colorado has purchased some of the old mailboxes, Lehigh officials report. It remains to be seen, though, what will happen if students don’t check their e-mail to learn that they have letter mail waiting.