ELGIN — The Gail Borden Public Library District is poised to spend about $1 million next year on an automated check-in and sorting system for books, CDs and other materials it loans to patrons.
The new 3M Library System, library officials say, will cut down the time employees spend checking in and sorting items and will get materials back into circulation faster.
“We spend approximately 210 people hours per week checking in and broad sorting materials,” library spokeswoman Denise Raleigh said. Those are hours that are not being spent “uplifting the customer's experience” and could be done by technology, she said.
The system already is being used at the district's Rakow branch on Bowes Road in Elgin and has allowed the satellite to operate full time with a skeleton staff. In the future, the new system also could mean that fewer people would be needed to run the main library, at North Grove Avenue and Kimball Street.
Specifically, Gail Borden is looking to buy 3M Library Systems' scanning and sorting equipment — machinery that can check in and sort library materials for re-shelving without human aid.
“We are looking at next fiscal year to do it. We would have loved to have done it this year, but it didn't fit into our budget,” Raleigh said.
The district expects to know by May whether the purchase will fit into its 2011-2012 budget, she said.
When purchased, the system will use special radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to monitor each of the district's more than 400,000 items. Machines in the system will be able to check in and sort material for re-shelving.
The RFID tags already have been purchased for about 25 cents each, Raleigh said. The tags are small labels containing coiled-up metal antennas similar to the paper-thin security stickers used in retail stores.
Information for each book is stored on the tags, and the automated scanning and sorting equipment reads the information on them.
Under the system, when a patron is finished with a book, for example, that person will deposit the book in a special return area. The material will pass under a machine that will automatically identify the book and identify it on library records as checked in. Then the book will travel down a conveyor belt and be sorted by a machine into a bin that corresponds with the area of the library the book belongs in.
Raleigh said the library district believes that the payback period for the investment will be anywhere from seven to 10 years.
Currently, the library has no plans to lay off employees after the equipment is purchased, but the district “always looks to be efficient,” she said. “If there is an opportunity to save on wages, the plan would be to accomplish that through attrition.”
One of the biggest reasons library officials say the new equipment is needed is an ongoing explosion in circulation.
The total items checked out of Gail Borden each year have rocketed from just over 1 million materials in 2005 to more than 2 million last fiscal year, Raleigh said.
In addition, in January last year, the library estimated that 82 percent of the Elgin community holds a Gail Borden library card — a figure 20 percent higher than 10 years ago.
If circulation continues to increase at such a rate, the employee hours saved by the new equipment might be redeployed to other work, including literally placing books back on the shelves.
Raleigh said that community members have been a huge help with preparing for purchase and implementation of the new system.
“There were 337 RFID volunteer hours in October. Also in October, there were 95 community volunteers who tagged or were on the call list to help, and 71 community volunteers came in every week,” she said.
Area libraries currently using the 3M Library System that Gail Borden is eyeing include the Barrington Area Library, the Palos Heights Public Library and libraries in Des Plaines and Oak Park, Raleigh said.