Elgin library’s new sorting system saves hundreds of hours
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News July 11, 2012 4:56PM
By the numbers
11,000 — items returned in a single day during peak periods
2.3 million — items loaned by the Gail Borden Library District in a single year.
179 hours — staff time saved each week by the new sorting system.
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:49PM
ELGIN — Getting books onto shelves and back into the hands of patrons is now faster at the Gail Borden Public Library — so fast that staff will save 179 hours a week, or 9,300 hours a year, officials said.
The new system is so fast that on Tuesday, the library held a “customer service Olympics” to show off how quickly a book can go from being returned to being back on the shelf.
Books were slid through one of two new book returns inside the library entrance at 270 N. Grove Ave. As soon as those books hit their proper sorting bin — for the middle school, travel or new books areas — a library staffer ran those books to their proper spot on the shelf — all in less than five minutes.
The new sorting system — in operation for the past month — uses radio frequency ID chips in each book, DVD, CD or any other library material to check it back in. As soon as returned items are passed onto the conveyor belt, that chip checks it back into the system. The returned items run down a conveyor belt and into the correct sorting bin to get put back on the shelf.
Waiting anxiously for the hot title you have on reserve at the library to be returned, so you can read it, too? The new electronic sorting system will send that book to a bin just for “holds” and an automated email will go out, telling the next person on the waiting list that the book is ready, said Laura Clark, director of circulation services.
Have 10 DVDs checked out? Once they are returned through the new sorting system, the computer knows those titles are back and you can check out 10 more, said Denise Raleigh, director of marketing at the library.
“This task is now completed automatically, saving staff from manually checking in about 7,000 returned items each day,” Raleigh said. “During peak times, returned items can exceed 11,000 for the day. The Library District loans over 2.3 million items per year.”
Now, the 179 hours a week of staff time once used for checking books in will be spent getting out of the back room and meeting face to face with residents looking for help, said Carole Medal, library director. Plans are to offer a “concierge” service to patrons needing help, she said.
“By having the technology doing the work for us, we can put the staff in front,” Medal said.
The equipment was paid for through a five-year, $650,000 loan from First Community Bank to install the equipment, Medal said.
Last year, volunteers and staff took three months to place an RFID chip in every book, CD, DVD and CD-ROM in the collection to make the system work.