Scan, Sort, Shelve: Library Automates Book Returns

Scan, Sort, Shelve: Library Automates Book Returns
A student returns a book.
The automated book sorter at the University Library.

Say goodbye to the traditional library book drop. The latest upgrade to the University Library is also one of the most complex, and the first of its kind in Southern California.

The recently installed automatic book return and sorter is a custom-built machine that scans and sorts books and media. Not only does it cut down on the time it takes for materials to return to the shelves, it also frees up library staff to help patrons.

The two touch screen kiosks — located in the library's atrium and outside the main entrance — allow users to return books 24 hours a day. (But don't think you won't be penalized for returning a book past its due date. The kiosk accepts late returns, but library patrons will still be charged a late fee.)

Once a book is placed inside, the machine scans the barcode, checks it in and determines which floor of the library it belongs. The assembly line system of gears and rollers funnels the book into one of seven carts — one for each floor of the library and an additional cart for holds and interlibrary loans.

“A lot of libraries are beginning to go this route. It's efficient, it sorts automatically and it cuts down on staff time,” says Andrew Naranjo, library addition and renovation project manager. “Our staff and students can be more efficient and work on more important things.

“The automated sorting unit is a one-stop-return for all borrowed items from the University Library. Patrons can enjoy the convenience of returning any borrowed item anytime without having to wait for the Library to be open,” Naranjo adds.

Each month, about 8,000 books are checked out. Manually scanning, sorting and shelving a cart of books takes at least two hours. With the automated scanner and sorter, materials can return to the shelves in about 40 minutes.

FKI Logistics, which built the sorter, also develops sorting systems for mail distribution and airport luggage.