Maximizing Library Storage with High-Tech
By Rick Amrhein and Donna Resetar
This automated storage and retrieval system
offers nine or ten times the storage space as standard
Valparaiso University is located in northwest Indiana,
about an hour from downtown Chicago. With about 4,000
students, Valparaiso (Valpo) is primarily an undergraduate
institution with professional schools in business, engineering,
law, and nursing. While the law school has its own library,
all other disciplines were always served through one
main library located near the center of campus. Moellering
Library was built in 1959 and expanded in 1969 to hold
266,000 volumes in 54,000 square feet. By the 1990s,
the collection had grown past 350,000 volumes, and the
need to also house computers and other technologies
made it clear that Valpo needed a new library.
Back in the mid-'90s, Donna took part in the conceptual
planning for a new facility. And by the time Rick arrived
on campus in the summer of 1999, Valpo was anxious to
begin detailed planning. While there was a clear need
for more book space, the evolution of library services
over the previous 4 decades demanded a new kind of facility
that would meet a wide variety of needs throughout the
campus community. So we were going to build a Center
for Library and Information Resources nearly twice the
size of Moellering that would house many more books
while also providing computing centers, group study
space, the campus writing center, a lecture hall, training
classrooms, and community gathering space. We wanted
to have open shelving space for approximately 300,000
volumes and high-density storage for another 300,000
Initially, compact shelving seemed to be a logical
choice for high-density storage, but we had concerns
about it taking over most of the library in the future.
Also, while the movability of compact shelving nearly
doubles the capacity of standard library shelving,
it is not particularly inviting for users. We needed
to find an alternative high-density storage system
so that we could make more creative use of space throughout
the rest of the building. We also wanted to make sure
that any storage solution would be located within
the building rather than off-site. Since Rick had
worked at the University of Nevada Las Vegas during
the planning for its new Lied Library, he was familiar
with HK Systems and its Automated Storage and Retrieval
System (ASRS). This offered an excellent alternative
for on-site, high-density storage at Valparaiso University,
while offering as much as nine or ten times the storage
space per square foot as standard library shelving.
Rick Explains the ASRS
An automated storage and retrieval system is a means
by which a large quantity of books (or other materials)
can be stored in a single room and can be easily accessed
within seconds. A large rack system holds many 2-foot-by-4-foot
steel bins. A crane in each aisle of the system retrieves
and replaces the bins on demand.
Initially, books are scanned as they are placed in
the bins, and a database keeps track of the location
of each volume. Later, when an item is requested, a
crane pulls the appropriate bin and delivers it to the
designated service point. A staff member then picks
the requested book out of the bin and scans it to update
the book's location in the database. Since order doesn't
matter (unless you want it to), when a book is returned
and re-scanned, it can go back into any bin where there
In our installation, we have 1,872 bins in two aisles
that are 18 rows high and 26 columns long on each side
of the aisle. This is all located within a space that's
30 feet wide, 80 feet long, and 30 feet high. The vast
majority of our bins (1,456) are 14 inches deep, with
312 at 12 inches deep and 104 at 18 inches deep. The
capacity of each bin varies based on the size of the
items you place inside, but the total capacity our installation
is designed for is 300,000 volumes.
Donna Explains How the Collection Was Prepared
for Storage in the Bins
As assistant university librarian for access services,
my duties include overseeing circulation, stack maintenance,
and our integrated library system (from Innovative Interfaces,
Inc.). So Rick asked me to lead the planning for material
that would be stored in the ASRS. First, we needed to
decide what we would actually store there. I thought
that the ASRS would be better received on campus if
the collections in it were less likely to be accessed
by browsing, and I knew that we'd have enough space
for all of the circulating monographs on the open shelves
in the new building. Using a committee that included
me, the assistant university librarian for collection
management services, and the cataloging services librarian,
in April 2002 we recommended that the following items
be placed into automated storage:
Periodicals prior to 2000, bound or
Selected large runs of reference annual
Low-use print indexes
Artifacts and restricted papers from
the university archives
This is the most important thing I learned at this
early stage: For the system to work with an online request
link in the public catalog, every item in the bins had
to have an item record with a bar code. This fact was
significant, because most of what we wanted to store
had never been bar coded. Fortunately, we had about
2 years to prepare these collections before the scheduled
move to the new location, where the ASRS would be built.
Although we have been adding Marcive records for our
U.S. documents to our online catalog for a number of
years, we had never received bar codes with the records.
Simply bar coding at the time of circulation had worked
very well for the limited use this collection got. But
to prepare for storage, in 2001 we began getting bar
codes for all currently received documents. The government
information librarian and I determined that a smart
bar coding project would be most practical for retrospective
conversion, saving us the step of manually entering
a bar code into each record. In September 2002, using
an output file of our existing records, Marcive added
bar code numbers, printed smart bar codes with SuDocs
numbers and titles, and then reloaded the records into
our catalog. We trained student assistants to attach
the bar codes to the correct items.
For this system to fulfill patron requests from
the OPAC, every item in every bin had to have an item
record with a bar code.
In the process of bar coding, we discovered records
in our system without corresponding items on the shelves
and items on the shelves without records in the system.
Thus the project grew to include weeding and database
cleanup. Although these side projects were not necessary
to the ASRS storage project, they were important in
generally preparing the collection for the move to the
IT staff from Valpo, a tech specialist from
Innovative, and programmers from HK collaborated to
set up this complex system.
Once the document bar coding was underway, I worked
with the assistant university librarian for collection
management services on the periodical bar coding project.
In January 2002, the periodicals assistant began by
adding bar codes and creating item records for newly
bound volumes. We assumed we would keep backfiles for
current subscriptions, so as each volume came back from
the bindery, the periodicals assistant forwarded a printout
with the correct Innovative bibliographic record to
the circulation workers so that they could bar code
the earlier volumes. If the run was a straightforward
sequence, we used the Innovative multiple-item record-generation
feature to rapidly create item records with sequential
bar codes. If the run had more complex or irregular
numbering, we used double-dumb bar codes. Student workers
then applied the bar codes to the volumes.
This work also became a weeding and retrospective
conversion project. Once we completed the backfiles
for our current periodicals subscriptions, we worked
on the closed runs. First, bibliographers reviewed the
closed runs for possible withdrawal. Then the remaining
volumes were bar coded.
For boxes of uncataloged books, personal files, and
archival collections, we developed models and templates
of simple bibliographic records to enter into the Innovative
system, beginning in October 2003. These records are
suppressed from public view. Although we could have
stored them directly in the ASRS without a corresponding
record in the online catalog, keeping everything in
the Innovative system makes it easier for staff to find
what they need and to request it.
All items to be stored in the automated system had
to have a record in the ASRS database. We needed a way
to easily pull together lists of item records in the
Innovative system to transfer to the ASRS database.
We did this using a combination of item type and location
codes for our newly created records. For the government
documents and index collections, we had to carefully
pull together lists using existing codes. Once the lists
were generated, we used the rapid-update feature to
change a code that indicated the items would go into
Fitting the ASRS into the New Building Design
Although much of the operation of the robotic system
is automatic, staff members still need to be involved
for the physical retrieval and return of items in the
bins. We were both already concerned about staffing
a building nearly twice the size of the old library,
and it was imperative that the ASRS be located in the
new building in such a way that an existing service
point, most logically circulation, could staff it. We
worked with our architects (Esherick, Homsey, Dodge,
and Davis) to explore our location options. Because
of the size of the ASRS rack-and-bin system, this was
no small task. Also, because of the extreme weight of
the ASRS and the materials it would hold, it had to
be installed on a thick slab at grade level. This challenge
was further complicated by the usual need for circulation
to be near the main entrance, which would be located
on the second floor in our new building.
Fortunately, the ASRS could be programmed to deliver
the bins at any height within its rack system. So we
first placed circulation where we wanted it to be and
then worked through various possibilities to build the
ASRS at the back of the department. The way it ended
up, from the point of delivery behind the second-floor
circulation desk, we now look down into the system.
Hardware and Software
In April 2003, we chose the ASRS from HK Systems because
this vendor had already worked with Innovative Interfaces
on two previous projects. In fact, the Innovative software
had gone beyond customized programming to a purchasable
product listed in its catalog. Donna initiated the purchase
of the Innovative ASRS interface and had the Innovative
specifications sent to the HK Systems' main office in
Milwaukee. The actual contract with HK Systems was handled
by Pepper Construction, the building contractor.
During software setup and testing, we began
moving the bin-bound books to the new library.
We knew that we would need a new Innovative server,
since our existing one was reaching the end of its life
span. Donna placed the order for the new server after
ordering the ASRS interface so that Innovative could
size our new server appropriately.
As HK Systems developed its project proposal, we brought
our campus IT staff into the planning process. Donna
arranged for a conference call so that our IT staff,
an Innovative technical specialist, and the HK Systems
programmers could collaborate. Our IT staff's security
concerns over using the Windows operating system for
the HK Systems server were solved by setting up an additional
network connection to the Innovative server and limiting
that connection to only the HK server.
As part of the contract, HK supplied the main robotic
system server, a backup server, and a dial-in diagnostic
modem. It also supplied PCs for each operator workstation
at the front of the bin aisles with attached receipt
printers and a networked report printer. Two terminal
servers are hidden at the back of the cranes. We supplied
the uninterruptable power supplies for the main and
terminal servers, along with two PCs to be housed at
the back of the cranes for running diagnostic software.
Our campus IT unit runs daily backups of the ASRS server
through its Legato backup system.
Innovative advised us early on to make only one change
at a time so that if something didn't work, we could
assume it was caused by the thing we'd just done. In
February 2004, Innovative installed the ASRS interface
software on our old server so Donna could test the basic
OPAC displays. In March, the new server was installed
in the old library. In April, HK Systems was ready to
test the data transfer component. Our IT unit opened
a port in our firewall so that our Innovative server
could talk to our ASRS server in Milwaukee. After working
through connectivity issues, we worked on transferring
records. HK and Innovative worked together to make sure
the records were transferring correctly. All the while,
Donna transferred test lists after every change and
reported back to HK. By the last week in May, HK completed
the final installation and testing of computing hardware
Loading All the Bins
While the setup and testing were underway in spring
2004, we began moving boxes and volumes slated for the
bins to the new library and Donna transferred their
records to the HK database in preparation for loading.
Immediately, we discovered that the Innovative system
did not transfer the volume number over to the HK database.
Since the unique identifier needed to pull each volume
from a bin is the bar code, we had our student workers
write the bar code numbers on the tops of all bound
HK staff provided training and stayed with us for
the first week of the physical loading in June. There
was some downtime with cranes and software, so the first
week went very slowly. We loaded our boxes of uncataloged
books first and then began on the bound periodicals.
We wanted to transfer item records to the HK database
as close as possible to the time we actually moved them.
As groups of items were loaded, Donna used the Innovative
rapid-update function to change the item location code
to the one that would put the request link in the catalog.
This way we were able to use the Innovative list function
to track our progress, and the catalog reflected the
true location of the item. Some location-code and scanning
problems occurred, causing records not to transfer.
Once we corrected the problems, the item records were
transferred to the HK database and the volumes loaded.
Soon we were able to establish a rhythm. At the end
of each day, the move coordinator estimated what would
be moved next. Donna made a list before leaving work
and transferred the records from home early the next
morning, so loading could commence before she arrived
on campus. The team used a whiteboard to track bin numbers
so that we could load the bins in sequence from front
to back and keep track of how many we were using. Circulation
staff worked full time for 5 weeks to load 59,000 items
while still staffing the circulation desk at the old
Solving Problems and Using the Robotic System
With the initial load completed, we started looking
at problems. First, we dealt with "lost" items. Occasionally
a loader would make a mistake and be forced into a bin
audit. If the person did not do the bin audit correctly,
some items were unintentionally declared lost. It was
easy to generate a report of lost items, find the suspect
bin, and rescan the items.
When a record is transferred to the HK database, HK
assigns it the status "delivered." Once the item is
scanned in the store function and assigned a bin, the
HK status is changed to "available." When a patron requests
an "available" item, the crane delivers the bin to the
ASRS workstation, then a circulation worker pulls the
correct item and scans it. At this point, the HK system
status changes back to "delivered." These "delivered"
and "available" statuses display the same in the public
catalog, but when a patron requests a "delivered" item,
the system assumes it is sitting somewhere in the circulation
area. The OPAC then directs the patron to the circulation
So we generated a long report for items "delivered"
but not "available." Many of these ended up being invalid
bar codes due to a faulty scanner. Since these bar codes
are no longer in the OPAC, we created dummy Innovative
records with the invalid bar codes and ran the transfer
program in reverse to pull the bad records out of the
HK database. For all remaining lost items, a circulation
manager went to the new building every afternoon to
process any picks and to look for items that may have
been put into bins without being scanned. We searched
the HK database for related volumes in the runs to identify
likely bins in which to look. The most likely bins were
pulled and searched for the missing volumes. The found
volumes were then scanned into the system.
Our Final Steps and Our Future Steps
We opened for business in our new building on Aug.
10, just a month before this article was due. We continued
loading boxes of archival materials and a few overlooked
sets through August. And we're still loading older runs
of bound periodicals as they come back from the binder.
Once we are a bit more settled, student workers will
be assigned to do bin audits just as they are assigned
shelfreading. In the old building, our goal was to shelfread
the entire collection over the course of each year.
Now that a portion of the collection is in the bins,
we will want to audit at least the bins containing periodical
volumes on an annual basis.
Our future steps will include refining the public
display in the WebPAC; training our student workers
to do routine picks, stores, and bin audits; training
our patrons to make requests from the OPAC; and working
with our Physical Plant staff to establish a preventative
Eagan, Michael. "Project ARS: Story." http://mike.passwall.com/ars/story.html
Haslam, Michaelyn et al. "The Automated Storage and
Retrieval System (ASRS) in Lied Library." Library
Hi-Tech, v. 20 no.1 (2002): 7189.
Parsley, Stephen L. "Automated Storage and Retrieval
Systems" in Handbook of Industrial Automation,
edited by Richard L. Shell, Ernest L. Hall. New York:
Marcel Dekker, 2000. pp. 643657.
is dean of library services at Valparaiso University.
He holds an M.L.S. from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Donna Resetar is assistant university
librarian for access services at Valparaiso University
in Indiana. In addition to access, automation, and general
reference duties, she serves as the library liaison to
the science and engineering departments and does instruction,
collection development, and some cataloging in those areas.
She holds an M.L.S. from the University of Chicago. Her
e-mail address is