The Chapel Hill Public Library boasts one of the highest per capita circulation rates in the state. That means a lot of books and DVDs coming and going each day, totaling approximately 1.3 million items annually.

Handling that volume of materials takes time, and can be physically taxing for library staffers. Library Director Susan Brown says it takes a mental toll as well.

“You fill up a cart of books and you turn around and there are more books, says Brown. “It’s like this fire hose of stuff that keeps coming back in.”

Starting this week, the library has a new solution in the form of an automated materials handler. The machine combines a conveyor belt with Radio Frequency Identification technology to collect and sort materials after they’ve been dropped off in a book return by library patrons.

The books will be automatically scanned and checked in, then travel over several yards of conveyor belts before being sorted onto one of eleven bins. From there, librarians will re-shelve the books.

In addition to the new ramps and conveyor belts in the sorting room, there’s a Plexiglas window in the library lobby so patrons can watch the process in action.

“We were sort of thinking of that Krispy Kreme model, when you can see the doughnut coming off the belt,” says Brown. “It has proven to be very popular.”

The purchase of the $300,000 machine was made possible by a $200,000 gift from the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation, combined with an additional $100,000 from the town’s Library Gift Fund.

Brown says they are taking suggestions for what to call the new contraption.

“We thought it would be a super-fun way to engage the public in this, so just for a couple days, we’re having an informal contest to name it.”

You can drop off suggestions in a ballot box near the viewing window.

The library will conduct a formal ribbon cutting as part of its Mystery in The Stacks fundraiser this Friday. Find out more here.