This Is How The New York Public Library Sorts Books

At  most libraries books are hand-sorted by library staff and unpaid volunteers.  The NYPL was having problems because of the large volume of books being processed, and they had difficulty finding people to do the work.  They have now installed a $2.3 million book-sorting machine that operates like an automated airport baggage carousel.
On one side of the machine, which is two-thirds the length of a football field and encircled by a conveyor belt, staff members place each book face-down on a separate panel of the belt. The book passes under a laser scanner, which reads the bar code on the back cover, and the sorter communicates with the library’s central computer system to determine where the book should be headed. Then, as the conveyor belt moves along, it drops the book into one of 132 bins, each associated with a branch library.

A video at the link explains that books can now reach their rerouted destination in one day instead of two, and that this is accomplished with about one-third the previous number of human employees.

Link.  Photo credit Uli Seit.

Last year I went on a trip to Europe, and we took a tour of the French National Library of Paris. It's a beautiful, huge, modern building, and I don't remember how many floors underground it was, but they had a similar automated book system. It was really weird!

Maybe not the best video, but it was the only one I could find.
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@Edward: What a testament to the rising ingenuity of american librarians, now six times more productive than they were before.

Automation is a major means by which economies grow. It's called efficiency, and it is a good thing.
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It's called deskilling and it will soon mean we have deskilled ourselves out of existence. For some industries, society is better off. Society will not be better off when libraries are first, run by volunteers, and then, run by robots, and finally, run by no one an closed. This will happen because, while begging not to be deskilled, outsourced, and made extinct, we bent over backwards to defend invasive new forms of privatization of public knowledge, and finally had no reason to exist.

Library science is hard work, real work, and technological efficiency is a myth.
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Our library has used systems like this for several years now, both in our own branches and in our shipping center. Because libraries are getting busier and busier, yet the amount of funding they receive is staying the same (if not decreasing), they need to find alternative methods to keep up with the higher usage. Having machines do this kind of work allows for the library staff to spend more time doing important things like working and interacting with the public instead.
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fyi the people who sort books in NYC are not particularly literate or skilled, it's hard enough to find people to show up for fifteen hours a week with no benefits at nearly minimum wage. The people sitting at the desk finding the book you want are another story.
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$2.3 million, divided by $9/hr is a whole lot of paid man hours.

I wonder what they estimate the break even point is for that investment (2 years, 5 years, ???). Especially with the tanked economy and the highest unemployment rate ever.
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Having had once worked as a sorter - I was wondering how does this automated system make notes of returned books that are damaged, written in, missing pages or used as a coaster?
That was one part of the job that really mattered to me (IMO). Making sure that whoever was going to check the book out next, would not receive a filthy book.
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Frau, I would guess that when books are returned they are first screened by a human for conditions such as those you mention, and only those that need to be rerouted to another library (i.e. requested elsewhere, returned to different branch) enter this sorting machine.
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