LOC Conveyor to Be Fixed, but Needs Upgrades

Posted March 15, 2005 at 6:43pm

A mechanical problem that has shut down parts of the Library of Congress’ automated book conveyor system for nine days could be fixed as soon as today. But problems with the massive delivery mechanism may persist for several years until major upgrades are made to the aging system.

“Parts of the book conveyor system in the LOC are more than 40 years old,” explained Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki. “The company that manufactured it is out of business and parts are hard to come by.”

She said the current breakdown has been isolated to one section of the inter-building system, which has more than 70 delivery stations. According to the Library’s Web site, the Automated Book Conveyor System accommodates approximately 1,000 book requests on a typical weekday.

“Given the size of the entire conveyor system, we are working to fix the problem as quickly as possible,” Malecki said. “We hope to have the system back up and running before the end of the week. It could be as soon as [Wednesday].”

But this isn’t the first headache caused by the aging conveyor system.

In early 2001, the delivery system was among the areas of the Library cited by the Office of Compliance for “undue danger to the lives and safety of occupants” for fire safety hazards. At that time, the AOC was directed to bring several areas, mostly in the aging Thomas Jefferson Building, up to contemporary fire safety standards.

In his March 2004 testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations committees regarding the Library’s fiscal 2005 budget, Librarian of Congress James Billington specifically listed the delivery system as one of the main infrastructure support problems facing the LOC. In his budget request he asked Congress for $400,000 for “an integration and upgrade study … of our aging book conveyor system.”

“We will be upgrading the conveyor system over the next several years,” explained Malecki. “Given the size of the system, it is a multi-year project.”

In the meantime, Library “deck attendants” have been manually delivering visitor book requests using push carts since the system broke down earlier this month.

“There’s an increased workload for the deck attendants but it’s manageable and there haven’t been any complaints from patrons,” said a Library spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman said the conveyor system occasionally breaks down “and when it does, the deck attendants know how to handle it.”