If you are designing a new building, you shouldn’t be considering automated materials handling (AMH). You should be planning for it.
\When we talk about AMH, we are usually referring to two components: a self-check-in machine and a sorter. With prices well under $30,000 to get a 3-bin AMH unit, nearly every library can afford one – budget-wise and space-wise. They cost less than one FTE and can take up as little as 8’x10’ in floor space meaning it costs less than the FTE it saves. And your AMH unit will never have any ergonomic injuries no matter how many returns it checks in every hour.
A 3-bin AMH is the smallest size that makes sense. It allows you to get items checked in immediately-which patrons really appreciate. And, it separates the material that needs staff attention from material that can go right back up on the shelves-which staff really appreciate. I usually recommend that the third bin be used for sorting out the returns that need to “go home” so they can easily be moved to delivery bins.
The most common size sorters fall in the 5-bin to 9-bin range. It turns out that there is a point of diminishing returns (no pun intended) when it comes to sorter sizes and these 5-9 bin sorters hit some kind of sweet spot. They are available for under $200,000 and can do the work of 2-3 FTE. They eliminate numerous steps from the materials handling workflow, and improve services to customers (instant check-in, better turnaround of library material). Every new library being built should assume they’ll have one -- and libraries that don’t have one now, should be looking into buying one.
And, in fact, many libraries are getting AMH systems for their libraries. Vendors report installing 3-4 systems per month. But, something is going wrong with many of these installations and I don’t think it is the AMH equipment that is at fault. It has everything to do with whether or not you and your staff are on the same page with the reason you’ve introduced an AMH system into the mix, and whether you've effectively planned for the changes that are required to leverage the new technology. So, what’s going wrong?