Translogic: Central Library's Forgotten Book-Mover

Kelly Wallace, Librarian, History Department,
TransLogic system tracks running through the library

When the gleaming “new” Central Library opened its doors on October 3, 1993, seven years after the devastating fires of 1986, it touted the latest innovations in computer automation. The now familiar brightly colored computerized library card made its debut, as did CARL, the fully computerized catalog system that replaced the traditional card catalog.

And there was TransLogic. The TransLogic Electric Track Vehicle System was a European conveyance system first used in hospitals and other medical settings. At Central Library, it would be used to move books, periodicals, and other library materials throughout the building. TransLogic replaced the quaint pneumatic tubes and dumbwaiters previously used to transfer requests and materials between the closed storage areas and the departments.

The ETV system cost $1.6 million and featured 100 carts that ran on 4,000 feet of aluminum track between 17 delivery stations. The carts could carry loads up to 20 pounds and the inner container pivoted with gravity as the carts went up and down the track. The 4,000 feet of track wound up, down, and around the library in a serpentine fashion, not unlike a Rube Goldberg contraption. It was estimated that TransLogic would complete between 3,000 and 5,000 transactions daily.

close up of TransLogic system in the library

My time with TransLogic was short-lived but I never ceased to be delighted by the appearance of the cars moving along the track and the gentle ding noting that materials had arrived.—Christina Rice, Senior Librarian, Photo Collection

old TransLogic tracks in the library

It was like Christmas every day. The train coming in, the beep, opening the lid and seeing the bin full of stuff.—Millie Chong-Dillon, Librarian, Business & Economics Department

Old TransLogic tracks in the library

It was a point of interest. The docents would stop their tours and ask for a demonstration of TransLogic.—Richard Acero, Administrative Clerk, Science, Technology & Patents Department

Old TransLogic tracks in the library

Each subject department had its own TransLogic station hidden under a counter, complete with a control panel and a department directory.

TransLogic travel system under the desk at the library

They always reminded me of the little black toaster in Star Wars.—Fernando Sauceda, Messenger Clerk, Photo Collection

TransLogic control panel

A librarian could summon an empty cart, fill it with books or periodicals, and send it off on a Mr. Toad’s wild ride to the Periodical Pool or another department. When a cart arrived at its destination, it would make a doorbell-like chime sound. Savvy patrons quickly learned to listen for the sound and would retrieve their requested items as soon as they heard it.

As is often the case, TransLogic worked a bit better in theory than in practice. A year after the reopening, TransLogic was still not operational. The delay was due to the Fire Department’s request for additional fire doors throughout the TransLogic system.

Once it was up and running, there were issues with stalled carts. The maximum weight limit was lowered several times. Every department was issued a scale and staff were expected to weigh each load to ensure it did not exceed the limit.

library scale to measure booksTransLogic ceased operating in early 2007, but the tracks still remain. You can still see a short stretch of enclosed track on the ceiling in the History Department on Lower Level 4.

screen grab from TransLogic video

If, like me, you never saw TransLogic in person, you can see it in action in this 1985 training video. There is bird’s eye footage and some snazzy ‘80s music for your listening pleasure.

Thank you to Keith Kesler for the amazing photos.