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Robots Retrieve Your Books At U. Chicago's $81 Million Library 202

Posted by timothy
from the for-that-much-money-they-better dept.
kkleiner writes "The University of Chicago's new $81 million Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is being referred to as the library of the future. You enter the library and find there are hardly any books, just a large reading room with computers. The library's 3.5 million books are stored inside 35,000 bins stacked within 50 foot tall racks in a massive 5-story chamber underneath the library. When you ask for a book an automated retrieval system involving huge, computer-activated robotic cranes finds the book you want, delivers it to the circulation desk, and eventually puts it back underground when you return it." The age of the personal-shopping library robot is getting closer and closer.
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Robots Retrieve Your Books At U. Chicago's $81 Million Library

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  • by Trip6 (1184883) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:13PM (#36233842)

    It's called a Kindle...

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      NONFREE
      NONFREEDOM
      DOH!

    • How much would it have cost to Digitize everything for the Kindle? Contract Google and reCAPTCHA and get everything digitized. It'd probably fit into a single 3.5" hard drive. Books really don't making sense in this situation. Especially spending 81M on a big storage unit. What happens when the water barrier fails and takes out the entire library?

    • This was my first reaction... the "library of the future" is already here, it's called the Internet.
      • by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:45PM (#36234700)

        Does the Internet have a copy of "Proceedings and plans for the completion of the Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac Rail-Road, from Chicago to Oshkosh", published in 1859? (http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/3577896) No? Didn't think so. How about "Sturiella minor: a fossil plant showing structure from the Carboniferous of Illinois", a UChicago student thesis from 1924? (http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/4512895) No? Didn't think so.

        If your response is "who would ever need to know that kinda crap?", you don't understand the first thing about academic research. If your response is "why not just digitize these and put them online?" then you'll be glad to know that they built a digitization lab as part of this new library to do exactly that. But that work takes time. Years.

        The Internet is great, but some things aren't on the Internet. Some things are very very hard to put on the Internet, due to copyright issues, age issues, and manpower problems. The Internet, for all its glory, often actually *reduces* the variety of information available: have you noticed that when you Google something, the first hit is Wikipedia, and the rest of the page is people plagiarizing Wikipedia? It's crucial that information networks from the past be integrated into the network of the present, or we stand to lose our history.

        For more on this, read "Rainbow's End" [amazon.com] by Vernor Vinge.

    • and take that new fangled alien contraption with ye, ye devil.

    • by dugeen (1224138)
      What, so Amazon can have books removed from the U of C library without warning? and they can take the notes the students have made too?
    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      It's called a Kindle...

      But they have built the ultimate robotic buggy whip.

  • Big Deal (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:14PM (#36233852)

    We have had one of those at Sonoma State University for about 10 years now.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      1) Your library has 1/4 as much storage.
      2) Your library doesn't look like this:

      http://www.uchicago.edu/features/20110520_mansueto/ [uchicago.edu]

      • by sycodon (149926)

        So now we know why the cost if education keeps outpacing inflation by double digits. Because idiot administrators have no interest in education, rather, they wan to build giant monuments to themselves.

        I look forward to the day that major university after major university goes bankrupt due to their profligate spending on crap like this.

      • by rnturn (11092)
        There is such a thing as too much natural light. I'd bet that there are days when the glare in that library would make attempting to read anything nearly impossible. And moving enough air through that greenhouse^Wreading room to keep it cooled on a sunny day would cause enough noise to be one hell of a distraction. The architect probably has never spent much time in a library.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Why would you want a library to look like that? There's way too many people in that room.

        Back when I was in college, when I went to the library to read stuff, I found chairs or tables that were nestled in the stacks of books, where there was no one around. It was easy to find such secluded spots to study in a big library where all the space was devoted to stacks of books, not some fancy automated system and an annoying "reading room" where you have to listen to everyone's noise.

        At least, however, the read

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I forgot to mention the libraries here have armed police stationed at them to keep the peace and keep gangbangers from starting stuff.

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "We have had one of those at Sonoma State University for about 10 years now."

      What? One of those papery blogs Granny talks about?

    • Indeed. These kinds of robots are seriously old hat - they've been around a couple of decades now.

  • Ambivalent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DirePickle (796986) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:18PM (#36233892)
    Robots are cool.

    Wandering the stacks and reading random books is fun.

    Going to the location of a book and looking at the books around it for other options is a necessity.
    • That's actually a function of the skill of the librarian. You're depending on the cataloging system to ensure that similar books end up next to each other on the same shelf.

      If you had a list of books (say electronic editions or scanned) and if you could order them in the same way that they are ordered on the library shelf, then you could browse a book's neighbourhood just the same.

    • It could in theory be duplicated online.

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      Robots are cool.
      Wandering the stacks and reading random books is fun.
      Going to the location of a book and looking at the books around it for other options is a necessity.

      What we need is to combine these options. -Riding- the robot into the stacks and perusing! Especially if the robot were shaped like ponies!

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Setting up physical stacks so you can browse through them is a hardware solution to a software problem. Your average Slashdot reader could easily modify a library search engine so when you click on a book, it shows you a sidebar containing several books a semi-random distance away in Library of Congress number.

    • I'd be very curious to see how this system deals with peak load. Say, for some class a new assignment is given. You often find that all the students will start getting books in that area.

      If it takes 5 minutes for every request, could see some big issues starting to pop up. I wonder if other students taking items from the 'bin' will muck things up? Are the bins even sorted by category, or just randomly?

      Or even ignoring people trying to get books in the same area, in busy operating conditions, will this slow

      • I don't think your scenario of a bunch of requests aimed at a particular area of the stacks is even necessary to cause bottlenecks and delays in patrons getting materials from the stacks. There will never be enough robotic book pullers to match the amount of material that can be obtained by individuals walking through the stacks.

        I am guessing the UofC has closed stacks otherwise this robotic system wouldn't make sense. Closed stacks, IMHO, suck like a tornado. They eliminate the serendipidous finds that y

  • But what I enjoy about say, going to one of the many libraries that my school operates - is having a list of a few books I want to check out, and browsing around where those books are found, finding additional books on the subject. This helps me find further research sources. I'm not sure how common that would be in all programs, but in History, it's quite a bit beneficial, or at least it has been for me...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fotoguzzi (230256)
      Some libraries have closed stacks and offsite storage, so perusing the entire collection is already impossible in some cases.
      • by CRCulver (715279)
        My university library has placed some (and only some) books in a closed stack while larger facilities are being built, and it's apologizing profusely for the inconvenience. Closed stacks are not seen a desirable longterm situation in these parts.
    • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:28PM (#36234528) Journal

      Yup. Nothing like taking a book off the shelf, flipping through a few pages, putting it back, taking it off the shelf, flipping through a few pages, discovering something you want to read more about, and adding it to the back-breaking pile you have on the nearest table.

      • Yup. Nothing like looking for a book and, finding it missing from where it should be, having to search for five feet in each direction just to make sure some random browser didn't just shove it back into place.

    • by rpillala (583965)
      The library online catalog where I live has a feature called "search nearby on the shelf" that shows you the books around your search result. If this kind of data is already being indexed, it seems like a simple matter to make a virtual representation of the shelf that you can browse with a mouse or a touch interface. It's not the same as being there but it can be approximated.
      • by hawguy (1600213)

        The library online catalog where I live has a feature called "search nearby on the shelf" that shows you the books around your search result. If this kind of data is already being indexed, it seems like a simple matter to make a virtual representation of the shelf that you can browse with a mouse or a touch interface. It's not the same as being there but it can be approximated.

        It may be approximated, but it's a poor approximation.

        The strength of being able to browse nearby books isn't just looking at the titles, but in being able to pick one up and flip through it and see if it's interesting. It's not quite the same if you see an interesting title, then have to wait 10 minutes for the robot to retrieve it for you.

        Since they say each book bin holds around 100 titles, they could simulate this by putting the books into LC classification order in the book bin and letting you browse t

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The books in the robot aren't going to be the ones you want to browse on the shelves--they are the endless bound serials, government financial statistics, etc. Moving them makes room to browse the stuff you want in the main library stacks.

      • My question would be, why aren't these things in digital form? If you've ever done any research, you'll know the signal to noise ratio can be quite low. It usually takes me scanning through 15-20 works before I find what I want. And to have to wait an hour to get your collection doesn't work.

        I say, have the stacks if you want the physical copy. But everything should be digitized and searchable.

        • by rnturn (11092)

          My question would be, why aren't these things in digital form?

          Maybe because it's much more impressive on the evening news for viewers to see pallets of bound printed government reports, statistics, and budget proposals being shipped to eagerly awaiting citizens and legislators. Seeing a box of CD-ROMs schlepped around would be boring. Showing a video of the government website and the link where you can download the documents would be even less impressive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:20PM (#36233926)

    It is very cool, but come on! People are struggling to afford college for their kids, and universities waste money like this?! Sorry, we have to raise tuition another 5%, we have to pay off this robotic library. And people complain about the oil companies...

    • by sackvillian (1476885) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:32PM (#36234046)

      The library cost a hefty $81 million, but the alternative was expanding the old library's capacity - and that was estimated at $67 million. So for $14 million, the university gets a brand new library with all the prestige and sex appeal of this new, high-tech approach with lower operating costs to boot. And anyway, the library's namesakes donated $25million, an amount that was probably increased by the prospect of the donator's getting to slap their name all over this exciting new building. What I'm saying is that this was a no-brainer for the university in terms of cost/benefit.

      Now, whether you want to trade a building full of beautiful old books which you can peruse at your own convenience, and staffed with generally knowledgeable bibliophiles, for a mechanized building with 5-minute delay times on book requests and far fewer human employees... that's not so straightforward I hope.

      • by toppavak (943659) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:05PM (#36234348)
        Indeed the long run the robotic library will be cheaper. My alma mater started construction on one [ncsu.edu] just before I graduated and I heard a librarian talking about the new design. Robotic libraries allow a higher packing density (more books per cubic meter), save on climate control (no need to compensate for opening / closing doors, it's underground so well insulated, no windows), require far fewer lights (robots can work in the dark), reduce the number of employees needed to staff the place (a + or - depending on your point of view) among many other long-term cost-savings.
        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          Robotic libraries allow a higher packing density (more books per cubic meter), save on climate control (no need to compensate for opening / closing doors, it's underground so well insulated, no windows), require far fewer lights (robots can work in the dark), reduce the number of employees needed to staff the place (a + or - depending on your point of view) among many other long-term cost-savings.

          That's awfully convenient... for pretty much everyone but the students who need to browse through the stacks to do their research.

          The ability to browse is the reason I still go to bookstores and libraries, even though almost every book you'd ever want is available online.

          • That's awfully convenient... for pretty much everyone but the students who need to browse through the stacks to do their research.

            The ability to browse is the reason I still go to bookstores and libraries, even though almost every book you'd ever want is available online.

            If you're browsing through stacks still, in this day and age, you're doing it wrong. In a world of databases and search functions, it's much more efficient to browse electronically, and request all the books you think are worth investigating. A well written search function, including related books (users who requested this book also requested X) would be much more useful than each individual having to manually perform the same search that 5,10,100 other people might have done.

    • It is very cool, but come on! People are struggling to afford college for their kids, and universities waste money like this?! Sorry, we have to raise tuition another 5%, we have to pay off this robotic library. And people complain about the oil companies...

      You have got to be kidding. This is exactly what Universities should be doing. Finding ways to preserve knowledge and make it available to whomever wants it. Until everything is digitized, this is a perfect way to make those books available in an as efficient a way possible. The students at the U of C are not about getting good grades and passing courses to get good jobs. They are about discovering and creating and investigating things that no one else has thought of yet. It's a research institution,

      • by Chibi (232518)

        The students at the U of C are not about getting good grades and passing courses to get good jobs. They are about discovering and creating and investigating things that no one else has thought of yet. It's a research institution, not a tech school. And I wish we had more like it.

        As a graduate of the University of Chicago, I'd have to say that, like many things, the perception is very different from reality. I'd say the vast majority of the student body, like at every school, are pretty average. It's not

    • this might be a cause of why tuition is out of control.

      however, you might wonder, why an organization that supposedly has limited budgets is spending money on these projects.

      who benefits?

      and who benefits when tuition goes up?

      i humbly suggest learning about the mortgage market 2000-2008, then realizing the same thing is happening in education; hedge funds are creating a bubble so they can get rich. fuck the students, fuck the social contract. they bubble the student loan market; they securitize the loans, th

  • This system caters to the individual who knows exactly which book they want, but what about us who like to have an idea, go to the section and browse around? I have frequently gone to the library with a vague idea of what I'm looking for and leaving with books for that topic, related topics and often just something that caught my eye. This "progress" undermines a lot of the value that a library presents.

    Besides, if I know exactly what I want, I can use my computer and Amazon to get most things without bei

    • by NoSig (1919688)
      So paper has better search than bits? Not on the planet I'm living on.
      • by CycleMan (638982)
        Personally, I love electronic search engines for the ability to get me exactly to exactly what I want. But until all books in libraries are full-digital and full-searchable, I like the browse feature. The Dewey Decimal system means that when I get interested in a subject because of one book, I can find similar books to expand my understanding. So when I know exactly what I want, bits are great. When I know sortof what I want, then the library is great. It also helps that I am cheap and when I don't kno
      • by nurb432 (527695)

        When you are wandering around in a library looking at random books in the same section.. yes, it can be a better search.

        You should try it sometime.

      • by EL_mal0 (777947)
        Not better search, but paper offers a better browsing experience. As noted in a number of other posts, this browsing can lead to the discovery of titles you didn't know existed. This is very beneficial to academic work.
    • by Haffner (1349071) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:03PM (#36234332)
      As a University of Chicago student, something that I think many people won't take into consideration here is how the library is geared toward the student body. The majority of students use the library as a place to work, rather than a place to get books. And honestly, as someone who does a fair amount of (economic) research, I don't even go to the library until I know what book I'm going to get (I have access to the online library catalog). I think most students view the new library as a cool new place to do work, rather than another place to find books at.
    • by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:48PM (#36234738)

      Keep in mind, this is not really a book library. UChicago says it will "primarily house materials like serials, periodicals, and other materials that are already online, as well as rare and fragile materials that should not be kept on open shelves"

      Which is to say, stuff you wouldn't go browsing for anyway.

  • Becoming a librarian has been a pretty crappy career path for some time, involving long education to the M.Sc level only to receive poverty-level wages in many places. Now with mechanical systems, there's ever fewer job opportunities. The workforce at my university library has been heavily reduced in recent years.

    • Didn't you hear about the shortage? it's been going on for, I don't know, about 15 years now. A huge, massive retirement wave is hitting the librarian industry! You should definitely sign up for an MLS degree, ASAP! There, you can learn psychoanalytic theories about the hermeneutics of student based factors derived classroom application methods, from somebody who has never heard of Linux. Congratulations, you are well on your way to a noble profession, where you will work in a stultifying bureaucracy where

  • One of the benefits of sorted shelves are that you might find something you weren't looking for, but is related to what you were looking for. If I don't know which book is the best book on a subject, I'll just pick one and find it on the shelf, and look at the books near it on the shelf for something that looks appropriate to my level. I don't see how this is possible with a robot system.

    • How do you choose a book on e.g. Amazon? Do you need to know the exact name of the book?

      There are computers there. Just have a simple web interface that lets you browse books by genre, topic, similar to others, authors, etc.

  • There is no future in paper books.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      Exactly. "Digitize" was the tag I added (well, not capitalized; some systems are not robust).
  • My alma mater (California State University, Northridge) has had one of these for over 15 years (http://library.csun.edu/About/ASRS). Sure it's cool, but why do we care? It's nothing new or groundbreaking.
  • It is tempting to chalk this down to colossal stupidity and cluelessness, but that would be a mistake. Such a library can only have been designed by people who never go to libraries. However, as with most governmental or institutional actions that seem carried out by imbeciles, corruption is a far better explanation. Instead of allowing users to browse the stacks directly, examining book after book with related (or even serendipitously unrelated) information, you can now only get the exact book you asked fo
    • Then why do online book stores have so much success, if they suffer from the exact same problem?

      • by rnturn (11092)

        Marketing.

        It's also why so many people buy and eat food that is bad for them. Why so many think they have to spend upwards of $70 for television or a similar amount for phone service. It's new! It's cool! You must have it! Now! Don't be the last one on your block to get it!

    • by blair1q (305137)

      On the other hand, you can "browse" the catalog of currently-checked-in items from your iPhone on the subway, order those you need, and pick them up within seconds of reaching the library.

      Or, you can spend hours going from shelf to shelf finding that things you need weren't re-shelved, if they were checked in, if they weren't subsequently stolen from the stacks.

    • by Ksevio (865461)

      Maybe you're unfamiliar on how libraries are used these days.

      With the Internet, most research can be done online, with just occasional references to physical books. When that happens, it means you have to go wander the library and search through the shelves for the book. With the book found, you can head back to where you started (study/research group, computer, wherever) and continue.

      This system cuts down the wandering in the library, the searching the shelves for the book, and possibly losing your spot

  • I like the overall idea, however according to the video, it seems like you still require librarians to sort through a bin of 100 books for the book you requested. I know that this is probably the first automated library of this scale, but if your going to spend the 81 million, you might as well make it totally automated without human interaction.

    On a positive note, the library really does look like a library from the future. I would love to go there and read books on my eReader.

    • Well, probably handling a single book would add several degrees of complexity:

      • Book strength is determinated by the strength of paper while the container can be made of a sturdier materiel (and are easier to replace).
      • In order to select a single book, you cannot have them side-by-side as usual in libraries because it would be complicated to identify the item and it would be a lot more complicate to put it back in place (books at the side falling and all that stuff that is so easily handled by humans.
      • So, you
  • I went to the Arcada section of the library and there was a guy laying shot and bleeding on the ground. I went to help him and he said "Astral body".

    Anyway I had the computer retrieve the "astral body" cartridge. Stupid library didn't have anywhere to play the thing though.

  • You reach your destination, but alas & alack

    You need some compensation to get back in the black

    You take the morning paper from the top of the stack

    And read the situation from the front to the back

    The only job that's open needs a man with a knack

    So put it right back in the rack, Jack

    Amen. Nothing beats perusing physical media.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Nothing beats perusing physical media.

      As someone who's spent a lifetime in books, much of it spent in the University of Chicago's Regenstein as a matter of fact, I used to be a firm believer in the supremacy of physical books.

      My mother-in-law sent me a very nice eBook reader, and little by little I've really come to appreciate it. I can even take eBooks out of the public library.

      It's no good for musical scores, and I can't read it in bed with the lights low so I don't disturb my wife (eInk is not backlit

  • The library of the future is . . . the library of the past. Isn't this just the "closed stacks" system? Except with robots? And no hanky-panky in dimly-lit floor 2.5 East?
  • What are my books doing at U. Chicago's library?
  • I bet you won't find it predicted in Astounding back in the 1940s that we'd have robotic fetchers by the year 2010.

    Somebody in Chicago invented time travel back in 1940, zipped 70 years forward to see how humans and AI were getting along, saw the library, returned to the time of origin, then destroyed the machine, since the future was too sad to contemplate.

  • Will also offer *free* electronic copies of ALL their books, to go along with the paper ones.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Will be installed in your head at birth, and updated either on a schedule or manually, as you desire.

      Unless all available storage and bandwidth are taken up with virus definitions, that is.

  • Books bring robots to YOU!

  • The main branch of the NYPL uses the same system, albeit more floors that aren't as tall, and human workers handle pick and place.

    An original illustration here, sorry for the ugly url: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_PotguXM3PJk/TKh0YeRyQMI/AAAAAAAAF_c/WiOrMXEWdQc/s1600/nyplstacks.jpeg [blogspot.com]

  • ... so I can retrieve them, as well as search, copy (!), and do everything else I can do with data on a computer, from anywhere.

  • When manufacturing jobs started disappearing the comments from many were that everything was ok and that service related jobs would take their place, now the service related jobs seem to be going away too (McDonalds last week announced it was replacing cashiers with touch screen kiosks in 40,000 restaurants). What happens now? While I like progress and advancement in technology, it just doesn't seem to be very well thought out, if you eliminate jobs in the name of efficiency eventually you also end up eliminating a sizable portion of the customer base. You can have 100% efficiency but if there is no one left who can afford to buy what your selling your business is going to fail.

  • does it cost to retrieve and return one book?
  • It's no substitute for the real thing. If you can't browse along the shelves you might as well not visit a library at all.
  • Sure, if you know what book you're looking for it's great. But if you're looking for something for which you may need to sort through a shelf or two of books, it seems like this would make it tougher to just pull a book down, browse through it, and move on to the next. I also remember many hours spent leafing through various works of fiction, looking for something I might enjoy reading by reading a few pages here and there to get a general idea of the author's style and the book's plot.

    Of course it's acad

  • Except, when I'm in a library searching for a book, I often run across something sitting on the shelf, that I was not searching for, that is equally or more interesting. The filter bubble comes to the library. God forbid anyone should expand their horizons by reading something they were not originally looking for.

    As for robotic personal shoppers, the same thing happens when I'm in a store. I often run across something I like, or something I forgot I needed while looking for something on my list.

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