Our New Materials Handler at the Plaza Branch? It's Sort of Awesome.

Last modified: 
Friday, June 7, 2019
If you’ve visited the Library’s Plaza Branch recently, you may have noticed a new addition to our team. Meet our new automated sorting machine – it’s here to help speed up the process of checking in returned materials and getting them back onto shelves faster, plus it will free up staff to focus on assisting patrons instead of sorting through returns.  

The automated materials handler (AMH) comes from the company Tech Logic, which provides similar systems for libraries across the country. The machine immediately scans returned materials and instantly clears them from a patron’s record, reducing the time it takes for a book, DVD, or CD to travel from the return slot back to the shelf.  

 
Books on sorting machine

Materials make their way through the sorting process via conveyer belt, and are immediately scanned and checked in using radio frequency tagging technology.
Staff celebrate the launch of the new sorting machine
 
Library staff toast the first official run of Plaza Branch's sorting machine.
 

“Automation like this sorter and the self-checkout kiosks we added a few years ago allow us to re-deploy staff into tasks that are more engaging and meaningful to our patrons,” says Joel Jones, Deputy Director of Library Services. “This includes one-to-one help with computers, teaching about Library resources, and helping someone find a great book to read.”

The sorting machine is a game-changer for both patrons and staff, offering a number of time-saving benefits and improved efficiencies:
 
  • Usually it takes hours or even days for to process incoming returns by hand due to sheer volume. The new system does it in minutes, thanks to scanners and sorting technology.
  • Automated returns are faster and more accurate, meaning we can get you the books, movies, and music you want much sooner.
  • Our staff can now spend more time helping you and other guests instead of checking in items.


April Roy, Plaza Branch Director, noted that the machine is already showing positive results. “Summer is our busiest time of the year and we don’t have any bins of books waiting to be checked in!”  

Library staff are excited about their new circuit-driven colleague. This isn’t a case of robots replacing humans; rather, the new system will relieve members of the Plaza Branch team of the time-intensive task of sorting and checking in materials. They’ll instead have more freedom to provide broader customer service, assisting patrons with their needs. As Roy observed, “Machines help with materials, but we still need people to help with people.”


Watch the sorting system in action below:





How the sorting machine works:
 
  • Place books, DVDs, and CDs directly in the returns slot. No need to go to the service desk.
 
  • As materials travel down the conveyer belt they are scanned by the system and automatically checked in.
 
  • Have a large stack of materials to return? Just drop them in the slot all together – the machine can scan in multiple items all at once. No need to feed in each item one at a time.
 
  • After being scanned, the items you returned are instantly removed from your Library account and made ready for the next person waiting for them.
 
  • Now your account is up to date, and you’re all set to check out more great books, movies, or music!

Another materials sorter will be installed at the Central Library this fall. That system will sort books for distribution to all our branches, to Kansas City Public School libraries, and other library systems in the metro area. It will also process new arrivals from our vendors, and it will help sort materials to be shared with the community through our Books to Go program and other local early learning centers.