Returns sorter removes tedious library job

Last updated 10:59 06/03/2012

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A robotic sorter - the first in a public library anywhere in New Zealand - should be up and running at the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library by the end of the month.

The Australian-made TecEvo system, which is costing $295,000, will take over a "tedious" and time- consuming task from library staff, Hutt City Libraries digital services manager Annette Beattie says.

Books, CDs, DVDs and magazines put through the library's returns slot will have their RFID (radio frequency identification) tags 'read" by the automated sorter, which will update the library database to show the item has been returned. The machine will be pre-programmed to sort the books into five category bins using conveyor belts.

The human-operated sorting operation is being temporarily shifted into the main part of the library while the returns room is gutted. Ms Beattie says glass portholes will be installed so people will be able to view the robotic sorter doing its thing.

Hutt library staff have seen such sorters in action in Brisbane and Melbourne.

"At Brisbane central library there is a large glass wall and people just stand there watching the sorter."

Hutt City Libraries deal with about 3.5 million issues of books, CD, DVDs and other items across eight libraries every year.

With the new SMART system, locals are also returning books to our libraries borrowed from Porirua, Kapiti Coast, Masterton District, Whitireia and WelTec libraries.

More than 55,000 items are returned to the War Memorial Library every month.

Sorting returns involves two part- timers in hours of boring work swiping the items over RFID readers, a task that puts them at risk of occupational over-use syndrome (OOS). The robotic sorter will free them up to help people access the collections and answer queries.

The new system is due to go live on March 28, in plenty of time for Easter, one of the busiest times of the year for libraries.

Hutt City Libraries manager of customer experience, Debra Nicholas, says the local library operation is one of the most innovative in the southern hemisphere.

As well as the RFID initiative and robotic sorter, it was an early adopter of computer suites with public internet [the Connect system], is running a programme of workshops to help people get familiar with e-reader technology, as well as 37 other programmes a week, such as Tea & Tales for older readers, book clubs, pre-schooler reading sessions and Baby Bounce (music, rhymes and finger movement sessions). "We're quite agile as a library service because we have the volumes but not the levels of complexity of some larger libraries," Ms Nicholas says.

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Other libraries are watching how the commissioning of the robotic sorter goes.

The sorter is phase one in a project that will also see increased numbers of self issue machines in each of the city's eight libraries, "enabling us to focus more of our staff resources on direct customer interaction rather than on mundane process driven back office work".

In a pilot project, Massey University's College of Creative Arts Industrial Design students will be developing furniture to house the new self-issue equipment.

Students will be consulting library customers as part of the design process as they work to develop equipment which reflects each community, is aesthetic, and practical.

- Hutt News

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