University of Chicago's Joe and Rika Mansueto library make book retrieval a robotic affair

May 26, 2011 by Katie Gatto weblog

( -- Visitors to the Grand Reading Room of the Joe and Rika Mansueto library at the University of Chicago will be in for a bit of a surprise. The books are not on shelves for the reader to peruse, but stored under the building, in tightly packed in bins stacked five stories deep. This new library relies not on you navigating the stacks armed only with your knowledge of the dewy decimal system, but in knowing what you want.

The library, which is designed to accommodate modern online research, has the capacity to retrieve a requested journal and deliver it to the circulation desk. Students can then pick it up at the desk and the will return it. The complete retrieval process can take as little as five minutes. The system relies on a set of computer-activated robotic cranes to do the actual retrieving and delivery. They delve into one of the five-story book storage chambers, which are located directly beneath the reading room. In each of the bins about 100 books are stored, which brings the total capacity to roughly 3.5 million books.

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The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library: How It Works

The rooms are, of course, designed with ideal archival conditions in mind. The entire system is designed to thwart water. The bins are air tight, and the chamber is equipped with both a system of drains and a special outer slurry wall designed to keep water from seeping into the room.

While this $81 million may be interesting it is certainly cost prohibitive, so don't expect to see one in your town any time soon. While some laud this as the future of the library, this reporter has to wonder what will happen to research if this is the case. After all, some of the most important bits of information can be gleaned by accident. If you have ever been walking the stacks and found exactly what you needed, even when it was not on the computer generated list, then you can see how this system also has drawbacks.

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The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library: A Construction Retrospective

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User comments : 4

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not rated yet May 26, 2011
Now, if we can just digitally scan them all, we can keep at least a copy of every book preserved for as long as possible. I mean we can keep people from defacing and putting their dirty hands on original hard-copyies for a long time!

the Internet can overcome the feel of just walking amongst the stacks of knowledge.

One could even imagine a quality control a.i. that periodically checks out the books to see whether a new hardcopy needs to be made. Shoot, we could probably figure out when a given book needs to be checked.
5 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
How are you going to browse the stacks. Browsing the stacks was one of my favorite pastimes. Some of the most interesting books I found by browsing. Furthermore, what if you you're not sure what books are available for what you're looking for? This is a DUMB idea.
not rated yet May 27, 2011
How are you going to browse the stacks?

I could never underline enough how much important that is.

Furthermore, what if you you're not sure what books are available for what you're looking for?

And even worse: what if you don't know what you are looking for, but only have a vague idea? Now, try and explain that to the stupid robot of the library.
not rated yet May 27, 2011
This article doesn't tell the whole story which is that this library actually facilitates browsing. It will store the kinds of materials least amenable to browsing or least reliant on it for discovery: boxes of archival documents and journal volumes that have been digitized. This opens up crowded open stack space in the adjacent building for the monographs that *do* need browsing. Actually a very smart idea. And if you only have a vague idea what you're looking for speak with a librarian, just as you should do now in such cases!

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