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Mailroom catches up with package backlog

Tasting a warm pistachio muffin from the Blue Room, shopping for that perfect fourth class, running into everyone you know in the Sharpe Refectory — these are a few of the nice things about returning to campus for spring semester. Waiting in line in the mailroom for 25 minutes to pick up a box of textbooks is not one of them.

The mailroom faced an unusually large backlog and longer lines this semester due to weather complications and an increased influx of packages, said Fred Yattaw, manager of University Mail Services. Mail Services processed 17,148 packages between Jan. 24 and Feb. 17, compared to 15,816 during the same period last year, according to data provided by Yattaw.

Mariah Gonzales '13 waited over a week to pick up a package because the line in J. Walter Wilson was consistently excessive, she said.     

"I actually made my brother pick up a package for me because the line was so long," she said, adding, "I think he thought he was going to get something out of it because the package was from my mom."

Backlog and delays

The lines in the mailroom may have looked never-ending, but the quantity of packages behind the doors was overwhelming. Last Friday morning, employees rushed around cataloguing items and sorting letters into mailboxes. Boxes were everywhere.

The beginning of the semester always brings mailroom chaos. The mailroom received and processed 1,332 more signature packages between Jan. 24 and Feb. 17 than between those dates last year, according to data provided by Yattaw. The figures for blue card packages, which do not require student signatures, also increased this year, Yattaw said.

A possible reason for the greater number of packages may be this year's larger first-year class, Yattaw said.

"In the old days when everything was notices in the mailboxes, we'd also get rushes between classes. Now it seems like whenever we send out a batch of e-mails, the line appears," Yattaw said.

But the larger number of packages is not the only reason the lines at the mailroom have been long. At the beginning of the semester, one employee was absent for six weeks due to a broken leg, Yattaw said.

Weather is another factor. "We had two back-to-back days where I had several employees leave work early or cancel because of the snow," Yattaw said.

"That's a significant time loss." Employee absences caused Mail Services to fall behind in processing packages. "Once you fall behind, it's very hard to catch up," he said.

Because of the backlog, packages were delayed in the mailroom for many students awaiting textbooks and other items. In some cases, students received package arrival notifications from Amazon but discovered their packages had not yet been processed by Mail Services.

Unusually chaotic

The September influx is even worse than that of the spring semester, but Mail Services accommodates the fall rush by opening a separate location in Graduate Center for UPS packages.

"Last September, we handled 30,000 packages," Yattaw said. "That many packages ­— we couldn't even process them and get them in (J. Walter Wilson) if we tried."

But Yattaw does not think using the second location in February would help ease the backlog. The overhead door at the Grad Center location would not be usable in snow and rain, he said, and using the Grad Center location in the spring would force him to split up his staff.

To prepare for the beginning of the semester, Yattaw hired five temporary employees for February. Mailroom employees are also not allowed to take vacation time during the beginning of the semester.

Yattaw has never seen this much mailroom chaos in January or February — "and I've been here awhile," he said. "If we continue to have this kind of situation going forward, then we'll have to reassess." But Yattaw said the number of deliveries calms down each year after Valentine's Day. "We just always have two really busy periods a year," he said.

Please, Mr. Postman

Alex Crane '12 said he left J. Walter Wilson and came back about five times before finally picking up a package early last Friday morning, a time of day when lines are generally shorter.

"The students have been very cooperative," Yattaw said, adding that Mail Services has been able to help individual students with special circumstances.

Yattaw personally helped a student locate two packages that contained textbooks she needed.

"Some students are impatient, but we try to keep it in perspective that they are under a lot of pressure. Nobody's ever come to me and complained about a staff member being rude or unhelpful," Yattaw said.

"I did get a mother who was very upset because she sent boots to her daughter," he said. The student's box number had been changed, so the package had not reached her. Yattaw looked into the case and found the package. "Her mother sent me a nice appreciation note with a Starbucks card," Yattaw said, smiling. "I know what it's like to be a parent and have a child in school. So I try to understand."

Back on track

As of last Thursday, the mailroom is fully caught up with the backlog and will be processing packages as they arrive, Yattaw said.

"I don't think we should have a problem now," Yattaw told The Herald Friday. "Going forward," he said, "we'll be in regular operational mode." If a package arrives in the morning, a student will probably receive a notification by noon, he said.

Yattaw commended his staff, adding that on several of the busiest days this past month, staff members did not take a break the entire day.

Scout Willis '13 echoed the praise. Even during busy periods, "they've always been really nice to me," she said, adding, "they're doing the best they can do."

The Mail Services staff has been very understanding about letting her leave packages in the mailroom for extended periods of time, she said. Willis has not picked up a package she received over two weeks ago — a small but extremely heavy box filled with graphic novels sent from a family friend.

She knows it is there, but she still does not want to carry it.


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