Automated library archiving at the click of a computer mouse

Daily Sundial

The Automated Storage and Retrieval System, tucked underground on the east side of the Oviatt Library, is a man-made archivist with six electronically-operated limbs that help locate aged, used and unused materials by request and transports them to a pickup station for campus usage.

A student interested in a certain book or item not available on a shelf would go to the library’s online catalog to locate the material by utilizing its barcode. The requested item is tagged with a delivery ticket printed by the ASRS computer.

The student will then retrieve the material on reserve from any of the attendants at the circulation desk, providing them with item’s barcode. The student assistant then looks it up in the system and the machine will deliver the selected item through an electric track vehicle, or ETV, that runs from the material transfer room, or MTR, at the back to the circulation desk.

The ETV’s designated route runs through the ceiling of the MTR and the reference room and back down to the circulation desk.

Typically, the material will be retrieved as soon as possible and the waiting period for checkout is between seven and 10 minutes, according to Eric Willis, library systems administrator.

“I think it’s a fabulous system, and it’s fun,” said Stephanie Ballard, senior development librarian at the Oviatt Library. “When I tour students from middle schools and take them to this thing we call ‘robot,’ they simply enjoy it.”

Non-students or users who are not a part of the CSUN staff or faculty cannot use the catalog website to reserve an item. Rather those people must go to the circulation desk to make their inquiry and access the archive, Ballard said.

The ASRS is in the east wing of the Oviatt Library and runs from the lobby floor to the basement, and is about 40 feet in height.

The bins are arranged on both sides of each aisle and occupy 8,000 square feet. The bins reach all the way up to the ceiling of the library’s main floor.

“This is an amazing piece of work,” Willis said about the machine. “It took us 10 years to build this thing and a lot of money went into it.”

About $2.1 million was invested in the installation of the ASRS, Willis said.

“It started (in the) summer of 1991,” he said. This archive system is among the largest in the nation, according to both Willis and Ballard.

The mechanical crane in each of the six aisles is responsible for lifting the bins back and forth along their port and storage shelves. There are 13,260 counted bins, with each carrying about 100 individual items, according to Willis.

“We get about 70 requests per day,” Willis said.

The ASRS is operated by computers and directed by humans. There is a pair of computers on each aisle of the ASRS and when an item is requested, the ASRS operator staff member inputs into the system the type of command necessary to move the crane to retrieve the requested item.

This machine swiftly yet smoothly glides along its cable as it is being directed to the selected bin. It then lifts up the bin to its aisle port to fulfill the transaction.

Willis said that an archive machine such as the ASRS comes with great benefits.

“It’s (a) very good service because it’s immediate and time conserving,” he said. “It also saves space while still providing rapid access.”

He said the delivery is swift and the service is very efficient. He also said that the machine is constantly inspected and highly maintained, so there have not been any major problems.

“There are a lot of positives, and cost efficiency is one of them,” said Joseph Dabbour, circulation services supervisor at the Oviatt Library.

He also said that there is enough space in the archive for 15 to 20 years more of storage.

Jelly Mae Jadraque can be reached at