2020-04-23

Preserving the past with today's technologies: Automating library archives

Apart from books, obviously, what do the National Library of Israel, Australia’s Macquarie University Library and the National Library of Canada have in common? If you answered they all are architectural marvels, that would be partially correct, but they also share something in common behind all the shelving: A complex, fully automated system for storing and retrieving books as supplied by Dematic, a KION Group subsidiary.

Cutting-edge technology meets a centuries-old institution in the latest project by Dematic, a global leader of integrated automated supply chain technology, software and services. The KION Group brand is currently installing an automated small-parts warehouse in the National Library of Israel, formerly the Jewish National and University Library, where 50,000 containers store roughly four million items from the entire collection. “It’s an enormous logistical challenge,” notes Jessica Heinz, head of Marketing and Business Development at Dematic Central Europe. When a book is ordered via the library’s internal system, it automatically arrives at a collection point, where a laser beam indicates to an employee which copy to pick up. A conveyor belt then returns the container fully automatically to its original storage location. The Dematic system ensures faster delivery of the items ordered and since they are exposed to fewer contact points along the way, provides better protection of the many works and tomes.

Viewing history through automation

The new building housing Israel’s ‘source of knowledge’, as the library is reverently known, is located on the Givat Ram campus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was designed by well-known Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron. As the books are transported quickly to the collection point, visitors are visually engaged in the automated process through a large panoramic window, which is another eye-catching architectural feature of this spiral-shaped library. They can also follow in real time how an ancient volume finds its way to the order point, thanks to high tech. “There are currently two approaches relative to automated systems in libraries: They either prominently display their system proudly like in Jerusalem, or the system is hidden from a library’s patrons like the underground configuration at the University of Chicago, where the books requested appear through the floor as if by magic,” explains Todd Hunter, a senior account manager for automated library systems at Dematic.

For over 25 years, Dematic has been installing partially and fully automated systems in libraries and archives around the world, which generally store almost the entire collection intelligently, efficiently and on a small footprint. “Both software and hardware have evolved tremendously over the past few years and are key factors in providing reliable solutions that can be adapted to individual local conditions,” Hunter adds. This is where Dematic comes into play with its scalable systems that can hold vast numbers of books and are intelligently controlled and automated via software. The numbers involved are truly astounding: Currently, a total of more than ten million individual editions of books, magazines and articles can be stored in an average of one-seventh of the space required by conventional library archive systems. And yet, it takes no more than five minutes from the final click in the online request via the library’s lending system until the selected books are ready at the collection point.

Accelerating processes and supporting collaborative educational centers

It is a sophisticated system that can handle new environmental conditions for every new order. “The smaller footprint, in contrast to conventional systems, allows for better control of key factors such as dust, temperature and solar radiation,” Hunter explains. The specific storage type can also differ based on the individual situation: While the National Archive of Canada uses a shelf solution with individual boxes, most university libraries are equipped with containers. In this case, up to 100 items can be stored in a single container, which has a barcode, providing information on fixed or freely selectable storage locations as well as on the container’s contents.

“The system is designed to accelerate ordering and return processes and to intelligently sort and store the library’s valuable collections,” says Hunter, outlining the many benefits. “However, it also contributes to the library building having more space for collaborative learning and to the transformation from a ‘warehouse for books’ into a versatile educational space.”

More than 'just' a machine

Achieving autonomous order picking