Whether a book is returned from the outside drive-through lane at Gail Borden Public Library or the indoor book drop, it's path to the shelves is now along a high-tech conveyor belt.
The automatic sorter, which has been running smoothly for about two weeks now, will save money and staff time and bring Gail Borden to the next level, technologically.
Last month material handlers manually processed up to 11,000 items each day, scanning bar codes for each book, movie, CD or DVD at a computer station before placing them into carts for shelving.
Now a computer will read the RFID-tagged item as it enters the library and the conveyor belt will automatically eject it into one of 28 bins to go to its proper section of the library.
"Like other public libraries throughout the state, our funding is basically flat," said Denise Raleigh, communications director. "Looking to do more with the same funding, technology does become a significant factor."
The new building at 270 N. Grove Ave., which opened in 2003, was designed to accommodate an automatic sorter. But the $659,000 purchase was put off until this year, when the library board approved a five-year loan.
The Rakow Branch has been operating with the same system -- the Lyngsoe SortMate -- since it opened in 2009.
Branch Director Christie Chandler-Stahl said the sorter allows employees to be up front with library patrons and does more than make work easier for staff members.
"It's also really fun for the customers to watch the books come down on the conveyor belt," Chandler-Stahl said.
Kids, especially, enjoy watching their items make the trek into the depths of the library. The new system also does the work faster, getting materials back to library patrons sooner.
The launch at the main library has been in the works for about two years. As the new system came closer to implementation, handlers who left the library were replaced with temporary employees, meaning no one was laid off in the switch. What used to take 25 employees now takes just 15.
Library officials expect to save $95,000 per year on staffing costs and add a concierge position for greater customer service at the entrance.
The first-floor sorter system can be seen from outside through the windows along the drive-through lane.