Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Retrieval Systems

When the magnificent new central library building (now known as the McKim Building) of the Boston Public Library opened at its Copley Square location in 1895 it contained beautiful art work and some unusual technological innovations.  One of its unique features was a book railway system which allowed books to be transported mechanically from library stack areas to the library's Book Delivery Room where they could be picked up by those requesting them. An illustration of the railway book cart taken from an 1895 Boston Public Library handbook is shown above.  Almost all large libraries of this period had closed stacks and getting a requested book to a library user in a relatively short period was important. In 1895 the Boston Public Library was one of the largest libraries in the country and its multi-tiered stack arrangement presented challenges in this regard. The book railway solution that the library came up with was adapted from a system used by retail department stores to transport cash from multiple sales points to a centralized cash receipt office.  The Lamson Consolidated Store Service Company in Boston was the developer of Boston's book railway system which involved railway tracks around each stack level connected to a small elevator that went to the Book Delivery Room.  In 1927 the new central library of the Free Library of Philadelphia also utilized an innovative book retrieval system. A number of large libraries used pneumatic tube systems to transmit book requests to stack areas where library employees were stationed to retrieve books. The New York Public Library still uses pneumatic tubes for this purpose.  Modern day libraries face the same challenges as early libraries when it comes to book retrieval. The University of Chicago Library is constructing a massive automated retrieval system for its new book storage facility. A number of libraries are making use of RFID technology to implement the automated sorting of returned books.  I have a previous post about an early concept for a book retrieval system.

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