This new machine is called the automated materials handler. The machine takes over as soon as books are returned through the book drop in the lobby. The books are checked in via a radio frequency identification scanner and then carried by a conveyor belt system where they are sorted into 11 different bins.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said librarian Molly Luby. “We had a moment when we did have it on, we realized for the first time, since I’ve been here, that all of the books were checked in.”
She said the machine will allow librarians to be more efficient and give them the opportunity to work more with library patrons.
“It will get us away from doing so much wrought work,” she said. “We’re learning the new flow of how the work will go and realizing we’ll have a lot more opportunities to be out on the floor helping folks rather than in the back workroom.”
With the machine, a day’s worth of checking in books can be completed in as little as five minutes, she said.
“The automated materials handler combines our radio frequency identification technology here; all of our items have a (radio frequency identification) tag,” said Susan Brown, director of the library. “It combines that technology with the familiar, but fairly high-end conveyor belt concept to automate the check in and sorting of our materials.”
The library currently handles 200,000 volumes in the collection but circulates close to 1.3 million volumes per year, she said.
“Currently, about 75 percent of our checkouts are self-service, but 100 percent of our check-ins are staff-driven, so it’s a staff-intensive, time-intensive process,” she said. “The goal is to let the AMH do that initial check-in and sorting so that we can get both our stuff and our staff on the floor and available to help people.”
The first year of costs for the design, fabrication and installation is $300,000, she said — and $200,000 of that came in the form of a gift from the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation.
“One of our overarching priorities is to leverage technology for organizational and community success,” she said. “We’ve tagged all of our collection with radio frequency identification some years and this gives a very big return on the investment of radio frequency identification.”
The library has created a competition amongst library patrons to see how can come up with the most creative unofficial name for the machine. Some of the more creative entries are: the Bookie Monster, Velocireader and the Dewey Decimator.
Brandon Rector, a Chapel Hill resident, said he feels that the machine is a good investment by the library.
“I think my kids will love it,” Rector said. “It speeds up sorting and keeps the workers from getting repetitive motion injuries.”