Imagine being given the task of relocating over two million books and other research materials from a library to another building almost five miles away. And a time frame of just a few months in which to complete the project.
This is exactly the challenge that was being faced by the staff of Georgia Tech’s library in the spring of 2016. Tech’s Crosland Tower and Price Gilbert libraries were scheduled to be closed in December 2015 for renovation to make the libraries’ physical space more user-friendly, rather than centered around housing the library’s material collection. In the last 10 years, visits to the libraries have increased by 50 percent, while check-out of print materials has dropped 75 percent in the same time period. Ninety-five percent of the library’s holdings were moved to the new EmTech Library Service Center (LSC).
The LSC is a high-density storage facility – there are about 40-50 similar high-density library storage facilities around the country – designed to permanently house Tech’s library materials, along with most of Emory University’s. The LSC is located on Emory’s Briarcliff campus, where materials are stored on 32-foot-high shelves at a temperature of 55 degrees with 30 percent humidity to preserve the life of the collected materials for up to 250 years.
Because of scheduling issues, Tech needed to get its materials into the LSC in the span of a few months. This was the ingest process, part of which included what Kimberly Mull, Director of Security, Facilities, and Logistics for the Tech libraries, called “deduping” — removing duplicated book titles, journal runs, and other materials that Tech shared with Emory’s library.
Ingestion also involved processing each individual piece of material, vacuuming it prior to storage, and giving everything a barcode so books and materials can be located by order pickers within the LSC.
Because the ingestion and set-up process of the LSC was essentially a warehousing project, Catherine Murray-Rust, Dean of Libraries & Vice Provost for Academic Effectiveness at Georgia Tech, knew that this was an area where industrial engineers could play a role. She thought the LSC ingestion process would make a good ISyE Senior Design project.
“If we had some IEs look at the process, then they could bring some warehousing strategies that the library community doesn’t really understand very well and apply them,” said Murray-Rust. “It seemed a really wonderful opportunity to give back to [the library community] from something on the other side of our lives, which is the engineering perspective.”
So that’s where the Senior Design team — Taylor Cormier, Sagar Govil, Ansley Hobbs, Jung Ha Lee, Trisha Long, Sinan Najm, and Andrea Norris (advised by Andrea Laliberte, Edenfield Executive in Residence and Professor of the Practice) — from ISyE stepped in.
“We were looking for a project we were excited about, and [we liked] the idea of having this project so close to campus and involved with Georgia Tech,” said team member Trisha Long. “It’s a really unique project, and we couldn’t have picked a better one.”
The team worked closely with Mull and Jay Forrest, a reference and subject librarian from Tech who was heavily involved with the ingestion process, on developing a plan to make the move from Tech go as smoothly as possible.
Initially, the team visited several other high-density storage sites, including at the University of Georgia and the research facility shared by Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Then the team came back and looked at EmTech’s LSC. These visits gave the Senior Design team information about the kinds of questions they needed to ask about EmTech’s ingestion process, while considering such constraints such as budget, safety concerns, and how much equipment needed to be purchased for the move.
“Our main constraint was trying to reduce the budget as much as possible within the safety constraints, and [visits to the other high-density facilities] helped us picture how much equipment the library would want to keep [after the move],” explained Long. “We wouldn’t want to buy lots of equipment and have it not be useful, so we tried to take into consideration what they would use – such as how many carts and how many vacuums would keep the collection alive for the next few years.
“After those trips, we were totally inspired. We were able to create a flow-process model that gave us two different ways to make decisions: Is it the fastest way and is it the cheapest way and go back and forth between the two models, and narrow down what our final recommendations were.”
The team came up with several suggestions that positively impacted the ingestion process. One, said Forrest, involved the use of gravity conveyor belt rollers in the processing line: “Prior to using gravity rollers, we were probably processing 12,000 books per day per average for about a month. We identified a source for gravity rollers, brought them in, and implemented them. That helped us get to 15,500 books per day on average. So that one change improved our throughput quite a bit.”
Perhaps most importantly, the team’s flow-process model and long-term projections confirmed that the library could hire a moving company at several hundred thousand dollars below the projected budget. “We went from one vendor that was over our initial budget to one vendor that was quite a bit under our initial budget,” explained Forrest. “This resulted in cost-savings to both Emory and Tech.”
Now that Georgia Tech’s library collection is safely moved and stored at the LSC, Mull praised the Senior Design team’s role in the success of the move: “I think it was a good collaboration. We see students all the time in the library, but to actually work with them had a good result. We incorporated around 90 percent of the team’s suggestions, and I would love to do another project with another Senior Design team. It left a really good imprint on the library.”
When asked how it made her feel to hear about the positive results of her team’s hard work, Long said, “From the beginning my team was excited to work with the school. The project let us learn so much about our library, and we walked away feeling even more connected to Tech.”