books · libraries

Bringing Back the Book Train: Moving Books through Libraries


Trains do more than transport people and goods across countries; they move books through libraries as well. The New York Public Library recently installed a new book conveyor system, i.e. a book train, which brings books out of storage to library patrons.

The book train represents a massive improvement in the way patrons receive books. In days of yore, if a library patron wanted a book in storage, he or she would request the book and wait for a library staff member to descend into the bowels of the building (or travel to another building) and retrieve the item. The entire process could take several days. In contrast, this new book train system only takes 15 minutes.

The conveyor system itself is ingenious. It features 24 red cars that travel on a rail system, and dBook Train on a Curve.PNGespite the tricky qualities of gravity, the cars can transition from horizontal to vertical and back again without losing their precious cargo. Once a request for a book has been entered into the computer system, the cars pick up the needed item from the Milstein Research Stacks and then deliver it to either the first floor or the Rose Main Reading Room. The patron can then pick up the requested item from there.

The Library has shared some interesting facts about the new system, and I’m highlighting a few of my favorites here. The book train:

  • Runs on 950-feet of vertical and horizontal track
  • Includes 24 cars that can each carry 30 pounds of material
  • Moves 75 feet per minute.
  • Is tracked using electronic sensors installed on the rails
  • Moves materials through 11 levels of the library, totaling 375 feet.

This system seems like a lovely and efficient way for patrons to get books quickly, and it would be wonderful if other large libraries could implement a similar system. (Admittedly, the $2.6 million price tag is probably prohibitive, and I do have terrible visions of book cars breaking down and getting stuck in the walls. I imagine it is like a printer jam, but a thousand times worse.)

If you’ve had a chance to use the new book train system or one like it, let me know how it goes! I’m always curious to know how these things work out in practice.


Image Attribution: All images taken from the Roll Video, Jonathan Blanc/New York Public Library, 10/12/2016. 


8 thoughts on “Bringing Back the Book Train: Moving Books through Libraries

  1. Wow, this reminds me of the old Bob Dylan classic, “The Times the are a Changin’ — whatever happened to the little ol’ gray-haired lady sitting behind her desk, shushing people who talked above a whisper, or flipping through those worn card catalogue drawers of my youth? Well, admittedly, MY youth was a L-O-N-G time ago. Sometime this ol’ graybeard longs for those good ol’ days. Very interesting post, Kristen! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, that’s news to me! He did write some memorable stuff, especially in his younger days. Once he went “electric” I think his writing/songs suffered. Just my opinion. Give me the man with his guitar and harmonica any day! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

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