County library system to obtain automated materials handler

Courtesy Photo.

The County Library system will be obtaining a centralized automated material handling system.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 January 29 to authorize the director of the county’s Department of Purchasing and Contracting to issue a request for proposals for the procurement of an automated materials handler and to award a contract upon a determination of fair and reasonable pricing.

The contract will also include warranty, maintenance, and technical support service, and the supervisors’ action also appropriated $1,100,000 for the procurement and support services to supplement $400,000 already budgeted.

“I’m really excited,” said County Library director Miguel Acosta.

“Library customers will really appreciate a new automated sorter because the turnaround time for requested materials could go from 30 days down to three days,” said Supervisor Jim Desmond. “The more efficient system will also free up staff to better serve their customers.”

Currently the County Library system has 15 automated sorters in branches.

“It’s a continuation of the technology we’re used to. It’s just the scale is much larger,” Acosta said.

The County Library system provides services to more than a million residents in San Diego County, both in unincorporated towns and in incorporated cities which contract with the county for library services, on an annual basis.

The County Library department operates 33 branches, two bookmobiles, four 24/7 Library-To-Go kiosks, and the County Library administration office.  Approximately 11 million items are circulated annually.

If a County Library customer requests a circulating book, video, or other item which is at another branch that item will be shipped to the branch where it was requested.  New materials are also added to branches, and more than two million items are sorted and transported between branches or from County Library headquarters to branches each year. An average of 7,000 to 10,000 items arrive at the administration office each business day for processing.

“We’ve been sorting these things by hand, so it takes a longer time,” Acosta said.

The manual sorting and packing process utilizes an optimal labor team of six staff members and takes three to seven days, and possibly longer, to process customers’ requests and orders from publishers for new books.

Many library systems worldwide whose size and scale are comparable to San Diego County’s use an automated materials handler system.

“A lot of large library systems have these central sorters,” Acosta said.

A conveyor belt system is complemented by bins for each branch to which the materials are delivered.

“It’s like a robotic book sorter,” Acosta said. “It can sort it into the bin and then the drivers just collect the bins. There’s efficiency both at headquarters and at the local library.”

The automated materials handler system is expected to provide items to the customer within two to five days of the request.

The automated system will also handle new books obtained from publishers.

“We’ll put them right on the conveyor,” Acosta said.

The manual sorting system does not determine whether any materials have been returned to a branch, but the automated system will include the updated information.

“It’s checked against our catalog one more time,” Acosta said. “It’s checked more currently.”

The system will also reduce physical strain for library staff, who currently also manually reissue a new label prior to shelving after unloading the materials.

“It’s essentially a mechanical system that’s much more efficient,” said Acosta.

A prior year County Library fund balance provided the additional $1,100,000 to complement the $400,000 already in the 2018-19 budget. The $1,500,000 estimated cost includes warranty and maintenance support.

Acosta expects the new automated materials handling system to be operational during fall 2019.