Posted by: bluesyemre | October 10, 2020

How to deliver 10.000 library holds every day in a nick of time by #MikkoVainio

The old-school way

Traditional way of printing and placing a slip on a reserved book to be picked up is very time consuming. The scale of this work has grown since Covid-19 enormously, but we’ve found a solution.

The context of our logistics project

Vantaa City Library has offered a mobile app for library users since 2016. Our users love the easiness of placing holds, and already before Covid-19 one third of our loans were based on reservations, now many, many more. Libraries resemble fast-paced, large scale e-commerce, and must adapt methods of it, too.

As a result, we might fulfill 10.000 reservations every workday. In our larger branches there are any given time one to two thousand reserved items waiting to be picked up, smaller ones having 500-1000 items waiting, and each one with a printed slip between pages. The workload doing this has just grown too big and something must be done.

All materials in some 65 branches of the Helsinki Metropolitan area libraries are rfid-tagged, floating and circulating freely. We’re using Innovative’s Sierra and reserving is free of charge until one’s got 100 simultaneous holds.

The key problem

The Martinlaakso branch with 200.000 yearly visitors and loans was chosen as a pilot. We observed the processes surrounding incoming shipments of returns, reserved or new materials. On average, in Martinlaakso it took 4,25 hours every day to handle this daily shipment of 400-500 items. Handling included individual identification of every item, checking and changing their statuses, printing slips for reservations to be picked up, attaching them and shelving all these returning or reserved materials in precice order.

It took on average 30 seconds to handle an item. It was repetitive, physically challenging and rather dirty work done by educated, qualified staff, whose skills would be in great demand in other, more challenging jobs. The most time-consuming obstacle in this type of work is the necessity to handle each and every item individually.

It’s done every day, year round, and it equals roughly a one whole person-year just for unloading and handling the daily shipment in this one branch. In Vantaa City Library as a whole it means some 10 – 15% of our working time or 15 to 20 person-years for that task alone, labor costs nearing million one Euros a year.

A basic overview of the solution

We modified our processes and brought automation where there was previously none.

Our sorting center in the Main library was expanded with a capacity to sort shipments in two categories instead of just one big pile going to its destination. Reserved materials were separated from everything else. Our existing sorting device, provided by Mikro-Väylä, was expanded by some more units, which was easy and affordable, just like adding some Lego-bricks. As a result, the needed labor in sorting stays the same, only the amount of shipped cases grows very moderately.

When this cargo in two categories arrives to Martinlaakso, we simply lift the category “other” onto RFID-returning shelves, provided by P. V. Supa. This shelf recognizes all material types, registers returns and changes their status to “available”. This work takes only some minutes and these materials can wait for final shelving for some time.

Reserved materials are placed in no particular order on the other RFID-shelf, too. It is exactly the same product as the other, but with another software. The status of materials is changed to “ready for pick-up”. Our users get immediately an email or push-notification, that their reservations are ready to be picked up. Just like the returns shelf, it’s a rapid job to place everything on it Neither of these shelves need any kind of training or instructions to use, be it the library user or e.g. a new member of the staff.

As our users come to check out their reservations, they simply flash their library card or mobile app to the integrated barcode reader. The location of their materials is then shown on the screen. Using this device is generally perceived as easy and convenient.

Both types of shelves keep up a real-time inventory of everything on them, which makes i.g. weeding easy. In this library there are usually at the same time some 800 items waiting to be picked up. These shelves can handle all kinds of library materials, like CD:s, magazines and board games, too.

Our staff and users benefit alike

Handling 400 to 500 incoming materials individually has turned into handling only two “items”. That is, two types of shipments. We simply lift everything on their respective shelves and in no particular order. The whole shipment takes some five to ten minutes to handle. What’s important, this method has not created any new tasks elsewhere, neither for our users, nor our own staff. After purchasing these sorters and shelves there are no other costs, either.

For our users, returns are made simple and fast. Picking up holds is just as convenient as before, but with added privacy, as those revealing slips exist no more.

We use the SERVQUAL-method to evaluate the sentiments of our users. According to over 700 responds the user satisfaction in physical facilities, equipment and personnel in Martinlaakso branch has increased.

The business outcome

Outcomes like visitors or lending of this branch have almost doubled in last few years, but the amount of staff has stayed the same. This new style of operation cuts more than four hours of daily work away, actually saving one whole person-year in labor costs – considered that these shelves are never sick, eat no lunch and never take a leave. The labor savings have amortized the costs of equipment in less than a year.

Since the prototype we’ve begun installing these devices all over. Last installations are about to happen in our three biggest branches during October-November. Those shelves can handle nearly 2000 holds each at the same time.

Besides labor savings, our brand has benefited from these new devices. Among our users and own staff as well, Martinlaakso branch is considered to be state of the art, differing from other libraries. Our own staff has got rid of some unsatisfactory tasks and a lots more time to interact with our users. One whole person-year in a library of five or six workers means a lot.


As a public service Vantaa City Library or author are not affiliated with above mentioned companies in any ways. Their names are here for reference purposes only, just to help further investigations.

Our mobile app Taskukirjasto / Pocket Librarys is produded by Enisoft. Our sorting, lending and returns in all eleven branches are done with the equipment provided by Mikro-Väylä and our RFID-shelves are manufactured by P. V. Supa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: