A King County Library System crew competes on Tuesday against a gang of New York City library workers to see who’s got the world’s fastest library-sorting system. It’s a pride thing.
NEW YORK — On Tuesday, Salvatore Magaddino will crank up the “Rocky” theme song and deliver a pep talk. His crew will then have one hour to defend the city’s title as home to “the world’s fastest library-sorting system” (at least according to the trophy) and to break its 2-2 tie with a squad from the King County Library System of Washington state.
“The adrenaline is outta control,” Magaddino said.
Magaddino, a former captain in the New York Police Department, once investigated major crimes and coordinated security for the World Series. Now that he is deputy director of BookOps, a 191-person unit, his job includes finding high-tech ways to manage old-fashioned materials.
Mechanized sorters like New York’s are relatively rare in the library universe. The King County Library System had the first. They call it the Tin Man.
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Anthony Miranda is manager of materials-distribution services for the King County system, one of the nation’s busiest. Last year, 21 million items circulated through its 48 branches. (The Seattle Public Library is a separate system.)
In 2005, Lyngsoe Systems, which designs contraptions to track and move anything from parcels to poultry, installed the $3 million Tin Man. It is bigger than New York’s sorting system and employs a computerized crane that lifts and stacks three bins, each weighing more than 40 pounds, at once. “We made the New York Public Library what it is today,” said Miranda, a Staten Island native.
Magaddino acknowledged King County’s came first. But he said, “We took it to a whole new level.”
In a brick building in Long Island City, Queens, lives the thumping heart of the New York and Brooklyn Public libraries. There, at the Library Services Center, a $2.3 million Lyngsoe machine called the Sorter does its work. Each day, about 30,000 books, DVDs, CDs and other bar-coded items requested by patrons take a spin on its 238-foot-long conveyor.
Humming along at 3.5 mph, the conveyor goes through a glowing infrared chamber that triggers plates on the belt to jettison items, one by one, into crates bound for city branches, each with a code similar to an airport’s.
Magaddino said that when he joined the library in 2006, librarians spent two hours a day pulling items from shelves and banding them with printed transit receipts. The items then went onto 30-foot tables at an annex in Manhattan to be put into bins by hand. Automating the work saved about 45,000 person-hours a year, he said.
At the Queens headquarters, the logistics team monitors fleet status, supply requirements and mission objectives, using white boards, corkboards and maps of 14 daily delivery routes.
They keep in touch with the police department and follow weather reports and traffic bulletins for word of protests, evacuation drills or other events that may impede deliveries. In case of trouble, trucks have GPS devices.
Though relations between New York and King County are mostly friendly, Dan Landsman, New York’s assistant coordinator for logistics, admitted he thought about letting “chewing gum fall in some sensitive places” when he visited Seattle this year.
Trash talk has gone back and forth between the cities via email since last month. “We take it in stride,” Miranda said, “unlike our stressed-out, hyped-up East Coast compatriots.”
Last year, the contest’s fifth, BookOps took the title by sorting 12,570 items in an hour, 702 more than the Seattle crew. The outcome was skewed, Miranda said, by King County patrons’ preference for “stimulating” books that had words “with more than two syllables.”
On Tuesday, the members of his team will have coffee and doughnuts. They will not don matching T-shirts. (Team New York’s are emblazoned with an image of the Brooklyn Bridge.) “We’re not into fashion,” Miranda said. “We’re into serving the patrons.”
The rival conveyors will be calibrated. New York’s count will begin at 10 a.m. EST; King County’s at 8 a.m. PST.
Magaddino said his team would begin loading up the Sorter at 9:55. Extra hands will be ready if needed. Items that make an extra turn without dropping into a bin do not count, so well-loved paperbacks with springy covers, which can confuse the scanner, will be closely watched.
“We want that machine full,” Magaddino said. “No misses.”