Twice to Garching and back. Behind the scenes of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
Two trucks, four different storage locations, 60 pairs of nimble hands, hundreds of book trolleys, 330 kilometres of shelves for over ten million books: These naked figures form the logistics foundation of the "Stabi", positively representing a microcosm of its own. The way of a book from the shelf to a borrower is long indeed.
Robert M. is irritated, because he needs his books for the term paper urgently: "Why do I have to wait three whole days for my books from the Stabi?" – Of course the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is also present on the Internet, and most materials can be ordered using a notebook or smart phone. The other steps involved cannot be accomplished within a matter of seconds, though. But what happens after a user has placed an order digitally?
Robert M.'s order is received in a large virtual memory a split second later. However, it can take some time until one of the 35 printer stations prints out the order on paper in the form of an "analogue" order slip: For organisational reasons, printouts are made only from Monday to Friday, and even then the actual storage time of the order depends on the time of the day at which the order was placed. The first order slips are printed at 6:00 on working days, the last ones at 14:00. Robert M. is a bit unlucky in this regard: It takes a total of 18 hours until his order is printed out.
But even then, not a single book has been moved yet – and the duration of the retrieval process, thus taking the books from their shelves and delivering them, depends decisively on the distance of the respective storage location from the central distribution points in the main building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
Taking the same time generally for all media (around one hour), one among the 60 employees in the stacks makes his or her "round" through the rows of shelves allocated to him/ her, starting from a strategically well-positioned printer with a trolley and several stacks of order slips. In the process, all ordered books are collected from the associated shelves and pre-sorted roughly in accordance with the issue locations. When the ordered book is located on the floor directly above the book issue counter in the reading room, the book's way to the counter is of course a few kilometres shorter than that of books from the external stacks in the Euroindustriepark industrial park, in Garching or in Neufahrn. Twice per day, in the morning and at noon, the two Stabi trucks tour the external locations, bringing back books returned by the users to their stack locations and collecting newly ordered books. Depending on where the books' shelve rows are, it takes different periods of time until the ordered media arrive at the repository's central distribution point, the so-called "Magazinzentrale". Robert M. is out of luck again: His books are located in Garching and have to be transported to Ludwigstrasse by truck. The truck to Garching starts on schedule at 6:30.
The truck with Robert M.'s ordered books has arrived at the main building in the Ludwigstrasse and is being unloaded. Here, the media pre-sorted on book trolleys in accordance with the place of issue are sent to the reading rooms and the local loan center.
The trolleys have been collected by the staff of the local loan center, where the books are prepared for home loan. On Monday morning in particular, there is quite a large amount to be processed: On a long row of book trolleys, up to 4,000 books can be stacked. These books need to be "signed off" before being placed in the provision shelves for collection. What does "sign off" mean? Well – a lot of manual work again! The employees of the local loan center check each book for whether it actually is the ordered one. Then they check the state of the volumes and make notes: Are there any damages such as marked passages, dog ears, loose pages, coffee stains? This is to ensure that the next user will not be made liable for such already existing damages. Finally, it is checked whether the book can really be issued for home loan. This means: Is the book classified accordingly? Considering the large amounts of books that were ordered in the course of the weekend, it can occur that this work takes one or two days, since the employees of the local loan center have a range of further tasks to fulfil on top: Registering new users, administrating and maintaining user data, correcting addresses, giving information verbally and in writing, issuing reminders, administrating fees, etc. Of course, also various counters have to be occupied so that the users can be served.
The works ordered by Robert M. have passed all checks, slips with various data (for example the date of borrowing and the loan term) have been placed inside the books and the books have been taken to the book provision area on book trolleys. There, they are already expected by industrious employees who place them on the collection shelves, in the exact order of the user numbers, to enable the users to locate their ordered items without difficulty. At the same time the loan system sends an e-mail to each user, informing that the ordered books are now ready for collection. Robert M. has received such an e-mail, too. He won't get around to collecting his books from the library today. – Well, this is too bad, but has nothing to do with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek!
Robert M. collects his books and has them scanned and entered in his user account at the booking counter. He is very happy that he can now finally start working on his term paper. And he is not even aware of the long distances that his books have covered and how many hands they have passed, that is that at the bottom of every book delivery there is an enormous logistical effort!
... and if you'd like to know now how the books are taken back to their respective shelves after their return by the users, watch it unfold live: