Publishers are trying to make e-books act more like print books—but some future library concepts are making print books act more like e-books. In particular, the $81 million Joe and Rika Mansueto Library that has just opened at the University of Chicago.
SingularityHub’s Peter Murray has a feature on this fascinating library that stores 3.5 million books and journal volumes in a five-story-tall system of bins that only needs one-seventh as much space to house the books as a normal library. The bins are organized by book size, not by category or other classification, and books are retrieved and returned through a system of robotic cranes. Murray writes:
The library’s unique construction is meant to accommodate the way research is done today: online. In the case an old journal article isn’t available online or a book hasn’t been scanned due to copyright limitations, for example, then the student can request the book right there on the computer. The automated storage and retrieval system will deliver the volume to the circulation desk, usually within the five minutes it takes for the student to walk there. Oversized and novelty books are also stored for retrieval.
The university touts the library as having lowered operating costs, energy efficiency, and better archival and preservation of delicate materials thanks to the sealed, airtight bins.
Murray also speculates on the future of the library in general, noting Seth Godin’s vision of a future library as being something very like the book-free lobby and collaboration space of the Mansueto, only without the 5 stories of books beneath it. Murray thinks that physical libraries will become less prevalent as many of the research tasks that were formerly done there are taken over by the computer at home instead.
For myself, I find the idea of the Mansueto library rather impressive, though I do have to wonder what happens when the robot cranes break down, as they inevitably will. (Maybe that’s why there are five of them, so that if one goes out the others can take up the slack.) And as some complain is the case with e-books, the system also eliminates the possibility of shelf browsing and unexpected serendipity. But for catering to those who know or know how to find exactly what they want, this type of system does offer some advantages—though whether the advantages are sufficient to offset the costs is less clear.