Campus, News

Behind the scenes: Meet ORCA, the library’s four-story robotic retrieval system

Behind the University Library’s circulation desk lies a hidden gem swiftly sorting, organizing and retrieving books. Students who listen closely might hear its mechanical whir. 

For students who have ever rented an academic journal from the CSULB library’s online service OneSearch, it was retrieved by a four-story robotic system named ORCA, or the Online Remote Collections Access. 

Installed in 2008, the system was part of the library’s remodel to meet the demand for more study space on the building’s fifth floor.

“The [Academic Services] building used to be part of the library,” said circulation desk employee Gilbert Parra. “We were told that we were giving up space for students but would gain some with ORCA. It was a hard concept to grasp but it ended up working out.”

The operation starts at home where students can request materials on OneSearch with a click of a button, activating one of three mechanical cranes miles away at the University Library. The mechanical system then follows a designated track leading down a long, dark corridor lined with metal bins, extending its crane to retrieve the bin containing the requested material. 

Around 5,100 bins, ranging in size, store library materials that are requested less often such as audio and video cassettes, thesis journals and CDs. ORCA currently stores around 380,000 items and keeps them organized and stored according to their size rather than subject. 

“We initially stored them like sardines then we realized we need[ed] some wiggle room so we could actually pull the books out,” Access Service Coordinator Vicky Munda said.

Each item is scanned before being removed from the box. This action alerts the system that the container has free space available. 

“The bins stay in their designated area but the content in the bin will change from time to time, especially because a lot of our bound academic journals are becoming more digitized,” Munda said. 

The entire operation can take up to 15 minutes depending on how many requests are made to one of the retrieval system’s six computers. 

Library staff finishes processing the request by pulling out the requested item from the bin retrieved by ORCA and reserving it at the circulation desk for students to pick up with their university I.D.

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