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The Library of the Future Where Robots Get Your Books

We Have Done the Impossible and That Makes Us Mighty


Flying against the idea that physical libraries with physical books are going the way of the dodo (and Blockbuster Video), the University of Chicago will be opening the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library next week, which is designed to incorporate computer-based research with actual books. Although, none of those books appear in the actual space of the library upon entering — they are stored in an underground storage area where they are retrieved by robots.

According to Judith Nadler, the director of the University of Chicago Library, the two formats are still a vital part of academic research:

“For scholars, the two formats complement each other, opening the door to a new era in research — and new libraries designed to make the best use of print and digital options.”

While conducting research on the library’s computers, those who find themselves needing more information or finding an online document with missing pages can request the books they need from the storage area online. It is then “pulled up to the surface by an automated retrieval system that keeps track of every volume through barcodes.” It is not uncommon for books to be kept offline because of copyright issues or for some online books to be missing pages or only provide abstracts. This library is a one-stop destination for researchers who need to fill in the gaps without going to another location.

The storage area has 3.5 million volumes on 50-foot high shelves. Below is a video of the robotic retrieval process:

For research purposes, this is definitely an efficient and innovative direction for a “brick-and-mortar” library. Though for recreational reading, nothing beats the afternoon browse.


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