March 16, 2018

Not Off-Site, but Out-of-Sight: University of Chicago's Massive Underground Robotic Storage System

Off-site storage is top of mind these days for many administrators, given that on-campus space is a precious commodity, and that an increasingly large swath of print materials in research collections rarely circulate.

But the University of Chicago (UC) has taken a slightly different approach, focusing on high-density underground storage rather than moving items  off-site. They’ve constructed, underneath the domed reading room of the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (see below), a facility that will hold some 3.5 million volumes, and claim they’ll be able to deliver them to students and faculty above at the circulation desk in roughly five minutes.

Storage retrieval image

Though the reading room opens on Monday, the storage facility below won’t be serving up materials until the fall, when an official dedication ceremony will be held. But if you want a peek at how the retrieval system works, the school has aggressively documented the construction process, which includes this “How It Works” video:

According to the school’s press office, the storage will be primarily dedicated to materials that have already been digitized, saving precious open-stacks space for monographs and journals that have not yet or cannot be usefully digitized and made available.

For an extended behind-the-scenes look at the construction of this Helmut Jahn-designed expansion of UC’s flagship Regenstein Library, also see this underground tour of the storage facility and explanation of the construction techniques:
(embedding has been disabled on that video)

Finally, I can’t help but mention the first two thoughts I had upon seeing the images of the completed Mansueto Library:

1.)    Intentionally or not, the emergent ovoid shape is a nice cross between the Louvre pyramid in Paris and the oval roof on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

+   =

2.)    Something about the perspective and angles shown in those videos make the cavernous storage space and the arching glass-and-wire dome look like something straight out of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York – though hopefully less existentially confounding. Then again, anything is possible at the University of Chicago.

Josh Hadro About Josh Hadro

Josh Hadro (@hadro on Twitter) is the former Executive Editor of Library Journal.



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