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Photos: Robotic library picks books out of the deep

University of Chicago houses paper underground with robotic cranes...
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 5 University of Chicago/Jason Smith

University of Chicago houses paper underground with robotic cranes...

The University of Chicago has opened the doors to a new library - designed by architect Helmut Jahn - which features the airy, elliptical glass-domed reading room, pictured above.

However, it's what's housed underneath the Grand Reading Room of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library that is of most interest. That's where the books live...

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2 of 5 University of Chicago/Dan Dry

The University is in the process of moving printed materials into the library's underground storage facility which extends 50 feet below ground - pictured above during construction.

Storing the paper materials in this facility allows them to be kept in optimal preservation conditions, according to the university. It will also allow the library to hold a wide range of research material at a central campus location.

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3 of 5 University of Chicago/Lloyd DeGrane

The high-density, automated underground storage system has the capacity to hold 3.5 million volumes. Taking inspiration from commercial inventory techniques, the library's designers opted to store books and journals in stacks of bins, pictured above, which are retrieved by robotic cranes when a library user requests an item.

Each bin holds about 100 books or journals. Barcodes are used to track each item so the automated retrieval system knows which bin to retrieve when an item is requested.

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4 of 5 University of Chicago/Lloyd DeGrane

The system uses five cranes to retrieve the bins. The cranes automatically retrieve a bin when a user requests an item it contains, lifting the bin to the ground level, as pictured above.

The bin arrives in the library's Circulation Service Centre where library staff retrieve the specific item to pass out to the reader. Staff scan the item's barcode and the system sends an email to the library user who requested the item to confirm it is ready for collection.

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5 of 5 University of Chicago

Library users request books via this software system. The university says the entire retrieval process has been designed to take less than five minutes.

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