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King County Library lost a cutthroat book sorting competition to New York

When you think of great rivalries, the Celtics/Lakers and Frazier/Ali come to mind… but not necessarily the King County Library System and the New York Public Library. That won’t change anytime soon.

The two recently competed in the sixth annual Book Sorting Competition, which probably has less chance of becoming an Olympic sport than every other sport on earth. This nerdy Super Bowl of book sorting competitions saw the New York Public Library (NYPL) and Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) combine powers to take on their fierce King County rival, reports Atlas Obscura.

After five of the annual competitions, the Pacific Northwest is up 3-2, having taken the last match by a mere 201 books. That’s a photo finish in the world of book sorting.

Books do not travel between library branches via stork as our parents once told us. Instead, when a book is requested, it winds up in a state-of-the-art machine aptly named a Lyngsoe Systems Compact Cross Belt Sorter. Reaching speeds up to 3.3 miles per second, the behemoth can organize more than 10,000 items per hour, as long as the not-as-fast humans keep feeding books, CDs, and DVDs into the insatiable mechanism.

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How fast they do that is the basis of the competition. On November 9, a 12-person team of elite sorters gathered at KCLS Materials Handling Distribution Center in Preston, WA, while their counterparts lined up at the sorting center in Long Island City, NY. If New York won, they were due Seattle’s Best Coffee. If KCLS took it, New York cheesecake would be on the menu.

Unfortunately for King County, it was a blowout. New York sorters redeemed themselves from their last loss and sorted a dazzling 12,330 items in an hour, while King County only managed a paltry 10,007.

So luckily for those who just heard that book sorting competitions exist, this one will be heading to a game seven.

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