ashikaFor many years, Circulation staff had been used to the traditional way of checking in and checking out materials to patrons, while having a day-to-day conversation with them. All this changed for us when we moved to the ‘new’ Lynn Valley Library in 2007. The Circulation staff  were excited as the new building had a brand new electric automated material handling autosorter.  Our faces gleamed and glowed and our eyes sparkled at the unknown. We dashed to the machine to see the first autosorter in BC which was going to do all the work for us. Returns pour in through the slot. We wondered, ‘Was there going to be work for us?’ ‘Who was going to be laid off first?’ That was Day 1.


The next day our smiles disappeared, our faces fell. Patrons complained and the telephone rang all day. ‘I returned that book yesterday!’ ‘Why is there an overdue on my account?’ We realised this machine was not working properly. There was more work for us to do.  We made apologies, we did shelf checks and we waived fines.

The top reasons the autosorter did not work for us were:

Firstly, the room was too small so the conveyor belt was much shorter than the recommended length. Returns piled onto each other and did not get checked in.

Secondly, replacement parts had to be flown in from Minnesota and we had to wait weeks for a replacement piece.

Thirdly, the 5 bin configuration was inadequate for our 3 branch system. We had twice as much sorting to do.

And lastly, the machine had an industrial type motor which generated sound throughout our department. We could not hear the telephone and staff wore earplugs. We wrote letters to the Health and Safety Committee until sound proof panels were installed into the room.

Even so, for 6 years, management insisted that we had to use the machine.

All this changed for us in 2013. As Circulation Supervisor I visited Jacqueline in her office and mentioned the problems we were facing. Immediately I felt the relief. For the first time in years someone was listening……

We immediately closed the return slot to the autosorter and opened one return slot at the Circulation desk. Thus ended NVDPL’s use of the autosorter. Staff  were so relieved!

There were challenges to be faced, though.  We hoped patrons would use the exterior book drop which feeds into the workroom. Our Circulation Department was designed around the autosorter, so new workflow issues arose when the Circulation desk became the prime point of return. Little did we realise how much patrons wanted to come into the Library.

We tried different ways of easing the situation. Staff complained and  patrons asked ‘When will the autosorter be reopened?’

Fortunately, new changes are in the works. Plans for the redesigning of the department are currently with the architect. In the past, staff were not included in decision-making. Now, staff have been included as to what they would like to see as workable solutions. One example is that staff led and designed a life-sized cardboard mock-up of the renovation plan.


Our Director allowed us to use a space on the second floor, inconveniencing patrons for a week. The cardboard mock-up space was visited by the Library Board, Management teams from other libraries, patrons and staff and helped everyone get a better sense of how the new space would flow.

We are renovating for more space, convenient book drops and more visibility and functionality. We look forward to more disruption and change as renovations happen later this year and going back to the one-on-one patron contact on a daily basis.

Return to Under the Hood

Links to panelist speaking notes:

Andrea Freeman, Manager of Welcoming Initiatives

Jennifer O’Donnell, Digital Services & Resources Librarian

Sabina Burnett, Circulation Assistant, Capilano Library

Krista Scanlon, Collection Services and Evaluation Librarian

Paul Taylor, Branch Librarian, Parkgate Library

Jacqui Jones-Cox, Branch Librarian, Lynn Valley Library

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