U of Chicago Library: robotic cranes, period!

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at University of Chicago

 

On the second day of our Chicago tour, we went to the University of Chicago to visit its libraries. When we arrived, we saw a half-buried-giant-shining egg!!

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Well, “apparently students had already given it playful nicknames, including the ‘Reg Egg’ and ‘Suety’,”(“Mansueto Library emerges as a Chicago icon”) but it also looked like a silver plated sterling gemstone, or a beautiful spacecraft from outer space. This is a library, however, concealing its treasure all in underground. Can you believe under this 180-seating grand reading room, there is a vault whose capacity is equivalent to 3.5 million volumes? The more astonishing fact is it is fully automated with robotic cranes!

 

 

Automated Storage and Retrieval System at Mansueto Library

 

The library was completed in 2011, and immediately became an iconic building not only in the University of Chicago but the city of Chicago. The glass dome is marvelous, and its automated storage and retrieval system underground is unbelievable. It also serves preservation purposes so the temperature and relative humidity are controlled at 60ºF and 30%.
Here again, items are stored by size rather than library classification. There are 24,000 bins for storing books and journals and 1,200 shelf racks for storing archival boxes and elephant folios. Between the shelves, five 50-feet-high cranes wait for an order. If a student requests an item on the library website, then the nearest crane to the item automatically moves to retrieve it. It only takes 3 to 5 minutes for the item to be ready for pick-up.

 

 

The library provides a book scan service too. Students can receive a scanned file of the requested item, up to 20% of the content because of copyright issues. The average time needed to scan a typical book is only 30 minutes with the Digitization Laboratory’s Zeutschel book scanner. Of course there have been attempts to use some tricks (like, requesting different page ranges of the same book with several friends) but staff keep tracking! They got declining phone calls from the library instead of the files.

 


 

 

Joseph Regenstein Library

 


 

The only one access to Mansueto library is through Joseph Regenstein Library which is “home to over 4.5 million print volumes focusing on subjects in the humanities and social sciences, as well as business, divinity, and area studies.” We also had the tour of this library too, and I saw some shared values I’ve seen in the libraries we visited so far, such as, flexibility, openness, and responsiveness.

One thing I thought it’s so unique and I would want to have it at my library (next to the automated storage and retrieval system) was the mother’s room. We didn’t have the chance to look at it because there were a mom and baby who are actually using it at that time, but isn’t it a good sign showing that users will actually use it if it’s there?

 

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The reason why I was surprised more is because I had never given a thought about it or expected for academic libraries to have it. I am female but have never really cared about the accessibility of studying mothers. I am still not sure how much I would like to prioritize it over other issues, or whether or not it’s common even in U.S. but it might have worth to give a thought. Isn’t it supporting the theme of our Chai Wai presentation today, which is libraries are committed to UN’s SDGs? I think it’s a good example for the goal #5, gender equality.

 

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