Tour of sorting plant (1)

Last month, I was granted a superexclusive tour of what I thought was the TPL sorting plant at Front and Parliament. (Pictures.)

It turns out not to be the plant where the books you return are sorted. That’s at Ellesmere and Birchmount. This plant, which may or may not be called Bibliographic Services, does almost nothing but send new materials out. (They also receive a small number of returns from South District branches, which was poorly explained, and they do cataloguing for uncatalogued or ill-catalogued new acquisitions.)

Yellow wall sits at and of large atrium, with white pipes lining a vaulted barn-like ceiling
Mezzanine below a ceiling with side-facing skylights, white pipes that look like ribs, and ceiling fans
Yellow wall with giant white ventilation ducts and metal catwalk
  • This building used to be the TPL headquarters and used to house its technical and bibliographic services. Now it only does the latter. Administration is hidden inside the Reference Library (TRL). Collections Development is at North York Central (CL). Information Technology is at Martin Ross, whatever that is. About 108 “positions” are domiciled there, which does not mean 108 employees.

  • More than a million items leave the building every year, including 600,000 fully catalogued items (as opposed to items just catalogued as “paperback” or “periodical”) – about 16,000 items a week.

  • Twice a day, new materials are plunked into about 120 boxes along one wall for ultimate distribution to branches. Why not 99, the number of branches? (It would be fewer than 99, since one or two are closed.) Some large branches get a box just for their holds. There are two bookmobiles plus the Home Library Service. TRL and CL get numerous boxes each. Everything is sent out once a day (in theory, six days a week). They double-check labels on spines and suchlike twice a day.

  • Magazines get checked in twice a week. Popular magazines go straight to your branch; others come through here. They have three vendors who sell magazine subscriptions to TPL, and TPL is dinged institutional rates for the privilege (with discounts from zero to 40%). It isn’t true that to subscribe to a new magazine they have to unsubscribe from an existing one. Canadian, Toronto-specific, “special-interest,” or foreign-language magazines might get a subscription in the magazine’s first year; generally they wait till after then. They’re actively looking for Canadian non-English periodicals.

  • Most acquisitions come in during the fall and winter months.

  • Holds on new materials are “captured” here, i.e., before they even leave the building for their maiden voyages they are already tagged as holds.

  • They rarely buy only one copy of anything. Perhaps TRL might get a sole copy. Usually the minimum is two (CL gets the other one). The more typical case is four to eight copies and above, with no practical limit (it’s in the hundreds).

  • They have a “rush stream” – bestsellers, items with high numbers of holds. There are 100 or so such titles a year; 35 a year are preordered in quantities above 150. When holds exceed copies by 6:1 for regular print and 10:1 for audio-visual, they order more copies.

  • I visited the upstairs cataloguing office and met with a very nice lady who seemed frozen in fear from all my questions, even ones that were specific to cataloguing. (Everyone was mildly surprised by the fact I was interested at all and the degree of my interest. Also, this is a pink-collar workplace, except, it seems, at executive levels.) Cataloguers can handle about ten languages with in-house staff; all other languages use “transcribers,” who are all TPL employees.

  • There are subdistricts within a region. Jones is in the Pape district, for example. Essentially all decision-making about which items to buy and where they go is centralized or quasidecentralized (as to the subdistrict). So in fact no, your local branch generally cannot order in a permanent copy of a book.

  • Every spring and fall, all branches go on a giant buying spree at World’s Biggest Bookstore. They’re buying paperbacks. (Usually only science-fiction and romance paperbacks, and children’s and teen paperback series, are fully catalogued. Here I’m talking about mass-market paperbacks [the small, thick ones with garish covers, lousy paper, and atrocious type], not larger trade paperbacks.)

  • Donations, in theory, get sorted by TRL first, then are sent here for distribution. This doesn’t really help me, sitting here as I am with a giant box full of interesting books I want to donate.

  • They couldn’t tell me where they store the acquisitions for new and renovated branches.

Next: I actually get into the Ellesmere sorting plant. With any luck.


3 thoughts on “Tour of sorting plant (1)

  1. Martin Ross is 120 Martin Ross Avenue, a depressing buildingnear Dufferin and Finch. It’s so far from anything that a coffee truck goes by twice a day and everyone runs out for snacks. As you say, TPL IT is there, including all of the servers running their web site and the catalogue and so on.

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