Greenfield Daily Reporter - May 16, 2013
New book sorter to improve process
GREENFIELD — Books, movies and music should make it back to the shelves more quickly at the Hancock County Public Library after a new automatic sorter is installed.
The sorter, part of a series of technology upgrades over the past two years at the library, is designed to cut down on the time it takes to organize items. Officials say it should also make materials more quickly available to the public, which could increase circulation. The system could be in operation as early as today.
“We’re looking to drastically reduce the turnaround time from when the item comes in to when it hits the shelf again,” library director Dave Gray told the library board Tuesday.
Gone are the days of librarians manually sorting through piles of books and using the Dewey Decimal System to decide where they should go. Now, radio frequency tags are read by scanners, and conveyor belts automatically direct items to bins, which tell librarians what section of the library they should be returned to.
Patrons who have been using the automatic sorter that was installed on the exterior of the building last year will already be familiar with the technology that’s being installed on the inside this week.
The sorter inside the building will also use conveyor belts and scanners. While the exterior sorter places items into three bins for librarians to restock the shelves, the new interior sorter will use seven bins to help employees know even more easily where items need to go.
Both systems produce a receipt to let patrons know their items have been successfully checked in. Both also have a manual book return adjacent to them, which some patrons may be more comfortable with. Gray said people may also want to use the manual drop-off if they have a large stack of materials.
Library officials say because the upgrade makes the workload lighter on librarians, it will ultimately mean better service for patrons.
“It’s for efficiency,” said library board President Beverly Gard. “It takes a lot of manpower to actually do all of that (circulation sorting) manually, and now it allows staff to do other things. We’re trying very hard to utilize staff efficiently.”
Last year’s massive undertaking of putting Radio Frequency Identification tags on each of the library’s 190,000 items made the automatic sorters possible. The tags, small white stickers, contain an antenna that is read by machines. The technology is used in both checkouts and returns.
As more libraries across the state are boosting technology with RFID tags, Gray explained, more are also investing in automatic sorting technology to become more efficient.
One of the biggest benefits of installing the seven-bin sorter, Gray said, is it makes materials that patrons are eagerly waiting for available more quickly. If a book or DVD has a hold on it, the item will be placed into a separate bin so staff can set it aside and send an email or text alert to patrons.
That’s especially important for hot new items and best sellers, Gray said. It’s hard to nail down how long it now takes the circulation department to identify an item on hold and notify the waiting patron, but the new system could cut the waiting time by hours or even a day.
Big movie watchers may especially like the new technology, Gray added. Patrons who have checked out the maximum 15 DVDs at one time can return them and check out another 15 right away. As it is now, the DVDs are returned to a manual bin and it takes a librarian time to sort them before allowing for more movies to be released to the patron.
The sound of power drills could be heard from the circulation department Wednesday, the first day of the installation process. Bibliotheca, a technology supplier to libraries, was hired to install the $101,580 Swiss system; a mechanic and a programmer from Switzerland have been at the library to complete the installation. It should be open to the public late this afternoon. When patrons enter the library, they should immediately look to the right for the new location of the book drop. Signs will also be set up to get people used to the new site; the old manual drop-offs will be blocked off.
Cody Flood, circulation manager, said his department can devote more time to the front desk and helping patrons find materials with the time saved due to the new sorter. There are always plenty of patron questions with digital downloads and e-books, Flood said, so there’s always something staff can be doing to help the public rather than sort books.
“It’s more geared toward servicing the patrons and making sure we’re meeting their needs,” Flood said.