New system helps library users find popular books

Sembawang Public Library has started a new chapter - by using data analytics to help visitors find books that are proving popular with other users.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim visited the library yesterday to check out new technology which it has been using since last November to improve its service.

Most successful has been the AutoSorter - a conveyor belt which scans radio frequency identification tags on titles left at the book drop, then uses an algorithm system to detect which books are being borrowed often.

Those titles are then placed on the "just returned" shelves.

The machine sorts 3,000 items a day - including books, magazines and audio-visual material - dividing them into seven categories and doing away with the need for staff to perform the tasks.

"Anything that helps us increase our productivity and efficiency is a wonderful development for our library, so that patrons can get their books faster or make it easier to collect their books on time," said Dr Yaacob.

Other high-tech features include screens that let users borrow e-books by using their smartphones to scan a QR code, and lockers where users can pick up reserved items after library hours.

The National Library Board (NLB) plans to introduce the AutoSorter in libraries slated for upgrading. NLB northern regional head Seem Siew Yong said: "Previously we needed at least two staff members per hour to do the sorting. Now they can be deployed to do shelving or walk around the library to help and talk to users."

Sembawang library is the second to have the AutoSorter, after a successful pilot trial at the library@chinatown.

Sembawang's current top titles are The Food Of China: A Journey For Food Lovers, F-14 Tomcats and Garfield Shovels It In.

Housewife Grace Leong, 44, said the "just returned" shelves are her first stop: " I always go there to find English novels because that's where the popular picks will be."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'New system helps library users find popular books'. Print Edition | Subscribe