Unpostmen and a New Model for Digital Libraries

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Last week, New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller posted a piece in its technology column called “A Start-Up Plans to Digitize Your Postal Mail.”  Cain Miller details Outbox, a startup based in Austin, Texas, that collects subscribers’ mail, digitizes it, and makes it available for viewing on a “pretty app.”  Just to clarify: Outbox sends what they call “unpostmen” to collect mail from physical mailboxes, those documents are digitized, and things not claimed by subscribers are shredded.

I could likely devote an entire post to debating the ethics and legality of Outbox’s services, but that’s outside the scope of my understanding.  Outbox advertises a “better looking” mailbox with digital storage that will last ​forever​.  My question is, does Outbox’s process make it a personal digital library?  After all, they are taking hard copies of materials and digitizing them for consumption, and making a profit from doing so.  Furthermore, if this ​is​ along the lines of a digital library, what can our field learn from them?

On a side note, however, I won’t be subscribing to Outbox.  Aside from the fact that it is only available in two cities, this is geared toward an unusual demographic into which I don’t fall.  Cain Miller points out that only one fifth of people (which people?) receive bills electronically, meaning that Outbox seeks to target the remaining eighty percent of the population, but only those who actively utilize iPads or the Internet and who don’t have time to process their own mail.  In my opinion, it’s not exactly a sustainable business model, but something that libraries can certainly draw from nonetheless.

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