By Matt Owens
The future of the library has arrived! The University of Chicago opened the Mansueto Library designed by Helmut Jahn earlier this year. What makes it the future of library? Is it because the main reading room looks like a crystal egg sticking out of the ground? It definitely does not look like any other library I have ever seen, but it is not what is above ground that sets the Mansueto Library apart from the rest. The Mansueto Library has the world’s first fully subterranean automated book retrieval system. Located below the reading room and completely underground is an enormous storage facility with shelve reaching fifty feet in height, holding up to 3.5 million volumes, which is managed by robots. Check out video of how it all works. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESCxYchCaWI
Robots retrieving books at a library! Sounds like everything we know about the library will change. Libraries will no longer need to have stacks of books available for patrons to search. Will there even be a need for a librarian? Like at Mansueto all you really need is computer access to the library’s database, and a robot will do the rest. Well I guess there still is a human element involved at Mansueto, someone actually takes the book from the robot and transfers it to you, and then upon return that person takes the book from you and hands it back to a robot pretty much, which at this rate there should just be another robot to do that too.
As for the reading room, one of the first images of the library I saw was a student sitting in the reading room, a glass dome reading room. It was a nice sunny day and as you could imagine the room was flooded with light, well the student was on his laptop. Most people might not think twice about that, but all I could think about was the glare that must be coming off his screen. As the sun gets lower in the sky I myself am starting to fight the sun and glare issues in studio as I am sure most of us are. I also noticed that such intense sun makes it difficult to read printed things as well. I have not been to the Masueto Library in person but that seems like it could be an issue. Along with the fact that I think the whole robot book retrieval thing is kind of silly, it sounds cool and looks cool though.
I believe the next step in library revolution will be the complete destruction of the library. How long will it be before every piece of written information is available on line? Everyone will have a tablet and will be able to access a world library without ever having to leave their house. I do not think it sounds too far-fetched, but that still may be a ways away.
But if you are really intrigued, during the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Hyde Park Day (10/23) you can purchase a ticket and get a chance to check out the underground automated book retrieval system/bat cave.