Watch a virtual 360-degree tour of BookBot library retrieval system

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I get the need for this sort of thing, but many of my favorite memories in college were finding books I wasn’t looking for on the way to find the thing I was.


We talked a lot about this when we were implementing the bookBot. So we built an online virtual shelf browse. Not sure how much use it actually gets. Nor does it really replace serendipitous discovery, but it’s something at least.


Awesome. I see this could be used on many other applications.
The worker can still make a mistake and put the book on a sector different from what’s displayed. Imagine some computer vision system could help with that.

big ideas need pictures and/or illustrations before searching
guaranteed to prove more productive

more technical than amazon’s look closer software

I wrote a whole answer but I’m editing it now… So the “browse” feature shows everything from all libraries by call number. This does not necessarily have any relationship to what’s physically located in any bin. Books are placed into bins by space availability and bin dimension; there’s no relationship between placement in a bin and a book’s call number or any other identifier. The computer just keeps track of which barcode is stored in which bin.

For the most part, putting a book in the wrong sector isn’t a huge deal. I mean, it’s a PITA, but if the software tells you to look in a particular sector and the book isn’t there, you check the other sectors. Harder is when a book is believed to be in the bookBot but isn’t in its assigned bin. Since books don’t have fixed locations in the system, it’s impossible to predict what bin it might have ended up in. There’s no way to audit the entire system. Luckily this doesn’t happen a whole lot.


That’d be nice, but most of what we have is metadata. We’d rather have a library full of useful space than full of books that don’t circ, and the bookBot has 9x the storage density of traditional shelves, so we’re willing to deal with some trade-offs.


can wholly understand that…
the british library used to expand their shelving by four miles
each year so they say

Reminds me of this, round about the 1-minute mark…

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The most impressive thing is that there hasn’t yet been sufficient need to develop an “audit the whole system” function, which would be almost trivial. Just scan each and every bin and make sure what you expect to be there is actually there.

I date myself by saying this but my first job was filing folders for an office. It seemed about 10 percent were misfiled. Accuracy seems like the main selling point for this.

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My local library network uses a shelf browse system, and it’s excellent. For libraries in the network but outside your town, that you might never visit in person, you can browse what else they have alongside the title you’ve searched, and then have the titles reserved and sent to your local library.

Yep. Y’all made a really good effort, and asked a lot of people to test the virtual browse. I think its great.

The scale and efficiency of that system may be impressive, but I prefer the personal touch of the good ol’-fashioned “Mr Darcy” library bot from the movie Robot and Frank.


Here in Germany some pharmacies use similar robots. Sometimes they have a window so you can peek at the fetcherbot in action.

I guess that 9x density is relative to normal shelves. How does the bookbot compare to rolling stacks?

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I think mobile shelving doubles capacity compared to traditional stacks, so the bookbot is 4.5x that.

If you’ve already made the decision to close the stacks and not allow any patrons to browse through the books on the shelves in person, then there’s no real downside to eliminating traditional shelving in favour of something more compact. I’d hope there’s a way to access a virtual shelf list catalog so you can still scan through everything in a certain call number range.

The downside is that seeing a shelf list catalog is no replacement for seeing the actual books in terms of being able to tell which ones might be useful to your research. If I was using that library, I’d be requesting a ton of books and sending 90% of them back, and that would eat up more time. But if the library can afford to buy more books with the money its not spending building more stacks - a worthwhile trade off, I think.


The problem is that “scanning each and every bin” means picking the bin and having a human handle every single item in the bin. Sure, it’s theoretically possible but it would represent a lot of person hours to do all 18,000 bins. The threshold for doing a comprehensive audit would have to be pretty high, and I don’t think that threshold would be reached in any reasonable amount of time. I think we do actually do systematic audits of bins in a way that slowly works through the whole system, though, during overnight shifts.

There are some system efficiencies that really lower the likelihood of a misfiled book. For one thing, it’s pretty closed-loop: the human scans the book, a bin gets picked, the system tells the human where to put the book, the human puts the book there. (There might be a second barcode scan when the book gets placed in the bin.) Since the machine is delivering the bin to the workstation the human is at, it would take deliberate action for it to go into a bin it wasn’t intended for. For another thing, the items in the bookBot tend to be lower-circulating overall (as compared to similar items on the open shelves anyway). Obviously it still occasionally happens, either due to mis-scans or whatever. But there’s definitely no rash of people who request books from the bookBot only for them to turn up missing.


Very similar to State of Utah’s Dept. of Alcohol and Beverage Control inventory, storage and retrieval system. As IT support, I was taken on a tour of the facility and watched in real time. It’s pretty impressive being in the presence of all that liquor and beer. It’s pretty sad being in the presence of all that state controlled liquor and beer.

Not sure how this system works, but with Utah’s DABC system, humans never touch the actual bottles or cans of alcohol. Everything is scanned on pallet, stored and retrieved as needs, loaded onto shipping trucks and away they go to the state owned liquor stores. I’m sure its much different with books.