Georgia Southern University

Unique automated system helps library deal with storage issues

A library could be described as a warehouse of information.

With that in mind, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for the Zach S. Henderson Library at Georgia Southern University to borrow a concept from conventional warehouses that store various and sundry items instead of books.

The new addition to the east side of the Henderson Library houses an automated retrieval collection (ARC) system � a unique combination of brains and brawn that is helping the library deal with storage issues during the ongoing expansion and renovation process.

The ARC is comprised of a computer system, two laser-guided cranes that move on rails, and 5,848 individual drawers, which are called bins. Stacked to a height of 45 feet and divided into two aisles, the bins are capable of storing up to 800,000 individual items.

According to Ann Hamilton, the associate dean of the Henderson Library, Georgia Southern is the only institution in the Deep South to have an ARC in its library. The University of Louisville is the closest school with such a system.

‘The capacity of the ARC will allow our library to continue to grow for decades without requiring another addition to the building,” Hamilton said. ‘When growth warrants more space, adding a third aisle of bins would be more cost effective than adding bricks and mortar.”

Because the original building is being closed for a complete facelift that won’t be finished until the fall of 2008, space in the Henderson Library will be at a premium for the next two years.

In an effort to maximize every available square foot in the recently completed addition, the library turned to the ARC, which has been adapted from the automated storage and retrieval systems used in commercial warehouses all over the world.

The ARC occupies some 5,000 square feet. The system is housed in its own room, but windows on the third floor of the library allow any interested parties to look down and watch the ARC in action.

Here’s how the system works:

When a library patron wants an item that is stored in the ARC, they make a request through the automated circulation system, which sends a message to the ARC computer.

After locating the bin in which the requested item is stored, the computer tells the crane to pull the bin and deliver it to the nearest workstation.

A library employee pulls the item from the bin, a printer at the workstation produces a receipt, and the receipt is placed with the item so that it can be delivered to the proper patron.

‘Books can be requested from any computer that is on the campus network,” Hamilton said. ‘Periodicals and audiovisual items must be requested from computers in the library, but periodicals do not circulate, so they have to be used in the library anyway.”

Each bin is 24 inches wide and 48 inches long, and they come in heights of 6, 10, 12, 14 and 18 inches. The varying heights allow the bins to accommodate items that range from small microfilm boxes to ‘oversize” books with a minimum of wasted space.

In fact, items are arranged according to size rather than subject matter in order to achieve maximum use of the space in each bin.

The bins are divided into four sections that are separated by two aisles. Each section is 34 bins high and 43 bins wide.

The cranes move between the bins on a rail system that is 112.5 feet long and similar to conventional train tracks. Lasers help to guide the cranes to a specific bin.

The cranes also move up and down, and they are capable of lifting up to 750 pounds, although the capacity for each bin is ‘only” 500 pounds.

More than 160,000 items have been loaded into the ARC. For the most part, the system is being used to store seldom-requested items, such as bound periodicals that were published between 1971 and 1989, and special collections holdings.

Once the present expansion and renovation project is completed, the square footage of the Henderson Library will have increased from 134,000 to 235,000.

However, even with all of that additional room, the ARC will continue to be an integral part of the library.

‘We can gradually transfer seldom-used materials to the ARC as needed,” Hamilton said. ‘That means we will be able to add new acquisitions for decades without having to remove seats for patrons to make room for shelving.”

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