The King County Library System materials warehouse staff raced their New York Public Library counterparts in a “sorting smackdown,” to see who could sort the most books in an hour.
PRESTON — In his office at the King County Library System distribution center, in front of a crowd of cameramen and reporters, Tony Miranda called up his counterpart in New York to compare results in Tuesday’s bicoastal book-sorting smackdown.
The New Yorkers were 201 books short.
So while the Sounders are out, and the Seahawks are struggling, it appears books will be one domain in which the Northwest reigns supreme (at least until next year).
With that call, the KCLS secured the 2015 National Library Sorting title, defeating the New York Public Library by sorting 12,572 books in one hour. In so doing, KCLS got revenge after losing last year’s competition, and is leading the series at 3-2.
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The annual competition began after the NYPL folks came out to look at KCLS’ automated materials-handling system — installed in 2005, the first of its kind — and decided to implement their own at their distribution center in Queens. Soon after, phone calls to KCLS by NYPL seeking some advice quickly led to friendly trash talk, and by 2010, the competition was born.
“We’ve made them what they are,” said Miranda, the manager of materials distribution for KCLS.
Sal Magaddino and Dan Landsman of BookOps, the sorting facility for both NYPL and the Brooklyn Public Library, insist that they simply took what they found at the KCLS facility and perfected it. And they added that Miranda, a Staten Island native, will find his NYPL card revoked should he ever return to the Big Apple.
“Maybe over in KCLS land, the recreational marijuana has led to their inability to keep up with the pace; that’s our hypothesis,” Landsman said.
Routinely among the busiest library systems in the country, the KCLS sorting facility processed 14 million books last year, compared to BookOps’ 7.9 million. The Preston facility, east of Issaquah, is where library patrons’ holds are processed. It’s the middleman among the 48 branches in the system.
Though there are fewer patrons served by King County’s library system, KCLS patrons on average check out eight to 10 items a year, a number that assistant distribution manager Steve Albert calls a “lifetime’s worth” for an NYPL patron.
“And some of the books are already colored in, so they’re disappointed,” Albert joked.
As the hour of competition approached, Miranda and his team fretted over which crew members to put where on the sorting line. Like a tug of war with a 3,000-mile rope, it was vital to position the group so the most effective sorters took on the greatest load.
“Diamonds are made from pressure. We’ve got the pressure, and I think we’ve got the diamonds,” Miranda told his team before they assumed their positions. When the clock struck 9, they were off at full speed.
If there were an MVP for the whole thing, it would have been Timatha Weber. She was placed at the head of the sorting line, grabbing books from big gray totes and putting them on the conveyor belt, emptying as many as 75-80 totes per hour.
Soon after 10 a.m., the camera crews homed in on Miranda like he was an NFL draft pick awaiting a team’s phone call. He went into his office, called New York and breathed a sigh of relief as he learned his team had once again beaten New York and the trophy would return to Preston.
Unlike the New York opposition, the King County system isn’t accustomed to much media attention, and having The New York Times and NBC Nightly News paying attention this year added an element of stress for Miranda and his team.
“I can go home and be a normal person again,” he said.
“I feel like I’m talking on a Sunday football show; I mean we’re a library system, sorting books!”