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New machine speeds sorting at Prescott Valley library

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br/>Prescott Valley library users deposit their book returns into a slot that runs into a sorter in a back room of the library.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br/>Prescott Valley library users deposit their book returns into a slot that runs into a sorter in a back room of the library.

PRESCOTT VALLEY - The town's new library, which opened this past October, is doing a better job "sorting" things out while also nearly doubling its collection to about 120,000 items.

An automated machine that arrived Feb. 15 processes each returned book, DVD or another loaned item one at a time from the book drop, and sorts them into five bins according to their categories. The categories are media (such as DVDs and CDs), children's, nonfiction/teens, fiction and "exceptions," which patrons had checked out from other libraries.

The sorter contains RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology that reads the computer chip tags on each returned item that drops into a bin, which can hold a maximum of 125 items.

"That is a big boon for our patrons because everything is checked in instantly," Library Manager Kathy Hellman said. Before the sorter arrived, three employees at three separate stations checked in returned items throughout their workdays, she said.

"And we could not keep up" with the volume, Hellman said. "We don't have money to hire (more) employees, and the technology allows us to operate with fewer staff."

Now, the employees have more time to spend tending to library patrons, Hellman said. The library has 16.5 full-time staffers, plus town employees on loan from other departments.

Besides reducing staff time, the sorter offers ergonomic benefits as well because employees do not have to bend when they remove items from the bins, Library Director Stuart Mattson said. The floors of the bins automatically rise once a library staffer removes an item that is ready for return to a shelf.

The Prescott Valley library is the first library to install a sorter with the RFID technology in the tri-city area and possibly Northern Arizona.

It is five years in the making, Mattson said, adding he and Hellman's predecessor, Susan Lapis, researched the matter. He added vendors at the time worked on privacy issues that the technology posed.

Mattson, who has been library director for two decades, said the Yavapai Library Network sought the sorters for its member libraries, beginning with Prescott Valley. The participating libraries agreed to use only one vendor so that the system would be compatible.

The Yavapai County Free Library District, which belongs to the network, issued a request for proposals, and interviewed three prospective vendors that responded to the RFP, Mattson said. The district settled on Tech Logic of White Bear Lake, Minn.

Mattson said the sorter cost about $267,500. The network contributed $159,000, the Arizona State Library provided $85,000 in a grant and the town paid $23,000.

Tech Logic custom-built the sorter system for the Prescott Valley library, said Tracie Templin, project manager. The sorter is about 40 feet long, 25 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and is on the first floor.

Templin said her company has no immediate plans to install sorters with RFID in any other library in the tri-city area. She visited Prescott this week to install a self-checkout system with RFID technology in the Prescott Public Library.

The Prescott Valley library became the first library in the tri-city area to offer self-checkout with RFID, which Tech Logic supplied in time for the library's opening.

The devices enable library patrons to scan several items at a time.

Library patrons checked out 42,000 items in January, up from 30,000 in January 2009, Mattson said.

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