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NYPL Takes on West Coast Library in Book-Sorting Competition

By Jeanmarie Evelly | September 17, 2013 8:57am
New York Public Library Competes in Book-Sorting Competition
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

LONG ISLAND CITY — Ready, set, sort.

The New York and Brooklyn Public libraries competed Monday in a battle of the book-sorters, teaming up against a library in the suburbs of Seattle to see whose staff and high-tech sorting machine could divvy up the most books in an hour.

"Every year we have a little rivalry, east coast versus west coast," said Sal Magaddino, deputy director of logistics for BookOps, which operates a service facility in Long Island City that's shared between the New York and Brooklyn Public Library systems.

Staffers, donning matching t-shirts, gathered at the Thomson Avenue site Monday morning, where they raced to feed books into a 238-foot automated sorter, which divides materials according to the specific branch location they're destined for.

Near Seattle, workers at the King County Library did the same, with the goal of seeing who could sort faster and take home the coveted "Lyngsoe Cup," named after the company that manufactures the machines.

The rivalry started in 2011, after the New York Public Library started using the automated sorter, which King County had already had in place.

"The first year we were a little new to the game, and Kings County kind of exploited that a bit," Magaddino joked, saying they lost that first year but were able to score a victory in 2012, after they'd honed their skills on the new equipment.

The New York Public Library started using the automated sorter in 2010 as a way to speed up the sorting of books and other items requested by library patrons, an act that had previously — and tediously — been done by hand.

The machine, a series of conveyors, scanners and bins, can sort around 12,000 books an hour. The Brooklyn Public Library also started using the equipment this year as part of an effort to unify some services between the two separate library systems, which get about 35,000 item requests each day collectively, Magaddino said.

Those items are brought to the Long Island City service center, where they’re sorted before being sent out to the local branch where they were requested.

"Our goal is to get our materials to our patrons within 24 hours," Magaddino said. "The quicker we can sort of our materials, the quicker our patrons will get them."

In spite of their team spirit, the New York Public Library lost out to their west coast rivals: a final count on Monday showed they sorted 12,396 items in an hour compared to Seattle’s 13,122.

But even before the final tally had been made, Magaddino said they planned to take a potential loss gracefully, by sending their competition some very New York gifts: pastries from Ferrara’s in Little Italy and cheesecake from Junior’s.

"We have cheesecakes and pastries on the line," he said.