A friend of mine sent me this note recently: "Apparently the Southwest branch of the Durham public library has an insane automatic book sorter worth 180K."
I checked into it and I can report that it did not cost $180,000, nor is it insane. It's actually pretty cool.
The machine is indeed located at the Southwest Regional Branch of the Durham Public Library, and it's been in place for a little more than a year. Gina Rozier, marketing director at the library, said that the machine was purchased by the Durham Library Foundation for $87,000. ("A discount from the estimated $100,000 we anticipated," Rozier said.)
What can such a high-tech machine do? Does it drop the books by drone onto the shelves? Well, not quite.
It uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to sort the books into five bins. Think young adult books, or children's books. Seems like a simple thing, but that pre-sorting really helps get the books on the shelf faster.
"Each library should have one," Rozier says. "At our busiest location, it gives us a leg up. When you put a DVD or a book in the slot, it checks it in immediately. It's fantastic."
Rozier says that it's fascinating to watch the speed of the sorting. They've talked about how fun it would be to put a camera inside and feed the video out to the public, so kids can see what happens to the books once they go through the slot. But due to privacy concerns, that's not likely to happen any time soon.
All four of the regional libraries (East, North, South and Southwest) were built to accommodate an automated sorter. Southwest Regional was chosen as the first site because it is the busiest regional branch. Rozier says that when the main library is renovated in 2018, it will be able to accommodate a sorter of this nature.
Gina Rozier also sent along these "fun facts about sorter usage":
- Busiest day for returns: Saturday
- Slowest day for returns: Friday (We're only open to the public for 4 hours)
- Day of the week with most return sessions (number of patrons returning materials): Tuesday
- Day of the week with fewest return sessions: Friday
- Busiest time of day for returns: 3 p.m., followed very closely by 4 p.m. and 2 p.m.