Thursday, May 19, 2011

Robots Retrieve Books in University of Chicago’s New, Futuristic Library

May 11, 2011

If Google Books was a physical place instead of a web service, it would probably look a lot like the University of Chicago’s new library

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, opening next week, is designed to accommodate the way people study and research today — online. The structure’s large spaces are made for computer work and have no traditional bookshelves.

Instead, the library boasts a massive underground storage area holding 3.5 million volumes on 50-foot-high shelves. The collection is managed by robotic systems that help create an environment where scholars can scour the web for hours for academic papers and still get a hard-to-find volume from the stacks.

As more books and journals become easily accessible online, it’s easy to wonder if brick-and-mortar libraries could go the way of the video store. But research at the university has shown that the more people look to digital resources, the more they consult physical materials as well, according to Judith Nadler, director of the University of Chicago Library.

“For scholars, the two formats complement each other, opening the door to a new era in research — and new libraries designed to make the best use of print and digital options,” Nadler said in a message e-mailed to announcing the library’s upcoming opening.

Designed by architect Helmut Jahn and covered in 700 panels of glass, the library looks like a half-buried crystal Fabergé egg from the outside. Under the dome sits the library’s 8,000-square-foot main reading room.

All books can be requested online, then pulled up to the surface by an automated retrieval system that keeps track of every volume through barcodes. (The video below explains the process.)


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