Blog Post: From Here to There: Shelvers + Sort Machine

CareyBlog700,000 items – that is a lot of stuff to move in and out in a year. For those in the library, these items are what you take off library shelves and carry home (movies, video games, books, memory kits, book club kits, and more!). After you’ve gotten the story, the entertainment, or the prize of discovering something new, you bring the items back so they can become someone else’s discovery.

Once you release stuff onto the conveyor belt of our sort machine or drop stuff down the drive-up item return….well, what happens next?  Just how does the prize return to the shelf?  What mythical army is working behind the scenes to put all 700,000 items back in their exactly right spot? What super speeds must they move at to do this, most often, within 24 hours from the time you return it all?


  • Cookie is the wizard, spending most of her time watching over the magical sort machine and moving items from bins to carts.
  • Then enter the bookcart magicians, Kim, Tanner, Joe, Anna, Megan and Macey. A powerful mix of young adults, teens and adults, some working second jobs and some working their first job ever.

This army of shelvers re-shelves, straightens, alphabetizes and Dewey decimalizes all things that have been disordered in your library.


When you place an item in our item return (whether drive-up, outside our west doors, or on the first floor just inside the library gates), our machine reads a little RFID tag that’s been programmed with its genre and location within the library. The item zooms down the conveyor belt, and drops into a bin with other like items.

Our shelving team then approaches one bin, and sorts the books into alpha order by author’s last name. These go on a cart (like the ones you’ve seen in movies or shows on TV), with spines facing upward for easy reading.

The shelvers wheel these carts to the appropriate floors, search for the right rows (They’re labeled on the ends), and then seek out the individual shelf for each book.

If they see a book out of order on the shelf while they’re shelving, they’ll fix it. They’re the ones that inspect spines, ensure books are standing straight, and notice if something is missing or on a wrong floor.

Once a cart is full, rinse and repeat. (These magicians can walk a few miles in one day just by shelving!).

So the next time you’re in the library, check out a couple more items. These shelvers love a good challenge, and we’re confident you’ll be just as impressed with how quickly that item makes its way back to the right shelf!

~Carey D. Hartmann