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KION Subsidiary Dematic Delivers Intelligent Automation Solutions for Libraries and Archives

For centuries, libraries have been vital to our cultural development. They are, after all, by definition where knowledge and wealth of experience are collected and stored. What were once the writing workshops of medieval monks have long since become modern learning centres that are at the heart of educational institutions and communities. Similarly, the way in which books and documents are kept and managed has also evolved. KION subsidiary Dematic has expertise precisely in this area and has recently been presented with a “Modern Library Award” for its intelligent automation solutions for libraries and archives.


Dematic was recognized as a Platinum Award winner by information platform LibraryWorks as part of its 2022 Modern Library Awards. The KION subsidiary received the award for installations of its Automated Library System (ALS). The solution is based on automated equipment typically used in small parts warehouses that has been adapted for the special requirements of libraries. These automated storage and retrieval system with integrated software control have fundamentally upgraded and technically enhanced existing archives around the world. “Our systems are providing a safe home to valuable and important collections,” explains Todd Hunter, Senior Account Executive at Dematic. The efficient storage design enables enormous cost and space savings as well as faster access to works. Furthermore, it allows for improved protection of books, some of which are very precious. Hunter continues, “Our ALSs can operate with controlled humidity and temperature environments, free of dust and other contaminants. This makes it possible to store the books under ideal conditions while still making them accessible to students and researchers.” The award is in recognition of Dematic’s work on four projects in the U.S., including at the Library of Congress, the University of Chicago, and at the Rio Grande Depot in Utah, where the state’s entire history is archived.

Everything flows smoothly at the Israeli “Source of Knowledge”

There are many other prestigious institutions around the world using Dematic technology – for example, the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, also known as the “Source of Knowledge”. Anyone who takes a look behind the scenes will see firsthand how a Dematic ALS can retrieve the required books from a stock of several million titles in a matter of minutes. (It really does look like knowledge is bubbling and flowing smoothly from the source.) The elegance of the system gives no clues to the logistical complexity that goes on behind the scenes, where the ALS ensures smooth and speedy access.

It only takes a quick glance at a smartphone and a short stroll for visitors to borrow, for example, the latest novel by Elif Shafak. This was the vision when Dematic was awarded the contract to install the system in early 2020: When a reservation is entered into the loan system, the ALS identifies the location of the title, retrieves the container from that location (one of 50,000 locations in the system), and transports the container to the pick-up station. Average speeds of up to six meters per second means the retrieval mechanism can cover long distances quickly, even in very tight spaces. At the pickup station, a laser signals which book the staff member should take out of the container. The process is similar for returns, too. A staff member scans the individual barcode on the book, prompting the ALS to retrieve the corresponding container so the book can be returned to its storage location. It’s as simple as that!

The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, also known as the “Source of Knowledge”.

Efficient use of space and intelligent software

The smooth, space-efficient operation of Dematic ALSs was specifically recognized at the Modern Library Awards ceremony. The systems operate in just one-seventh of the space required by conventional library systems and feature customized shelving and container solutions. By identifying unused spaces, the system assigns titles with flexible rather than fixed storage locations to maximize the use of the total space. Intelligent software tracks the books with the highest degree of accuracy, allowing it to know exactly what titles are at any given time. Considering the staggering numbers involved – millions of books, tapes, journals, and articles – the advantages of an ALS over manual archiving processes is clear. However, one of the most important features has nothing to do with increasing efficiency or cutting costs, but rather with the preservation of the materials.

Intelligently stored and optimally protected

In conventional libraries, books are subject to many factors that can harm them. Lots of handling by multiple people, dust, too much sunlight, and fluctuating temperatures can all risk damaging the books. Dematic ALSs provides better management of all of these factors – books are stored in a separate area, inaccessible to people, where they are kept in complete darkness under ideal temperature conditions until they are needed. Moreover, by reducing oxygen levels, the system protects the inventory from fires. As a result, this modern automation solution is making a significant contribution to prolonging the lifespan of valuable historical works – not only in Israel, but in Canada as well. Work for Library and Archives Canada on the world’s largest automated library system to date began in January 2020 and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022 when a 30-meter-high facility will usher in a new era of archiving. Countless works are to be given a new home and, by using the latest technology, history will literally be better preserved for future generations to come.

Dematic is transforming archives and libraries with intelligent automation into technologically advanced memory institutions, where our knowledge can be protected in a sustainable way. This represents a successful example of how automation can also play an important role outside of warehouses, and in so doing, even contribute to the preservation of our culture.

A 30-meter-high facility will usher in a new era of archiving for the Library and Archives Canada.