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Automated Book Delivery Systems

Nov 7 2011

Libraries of the Future

by Jesse M

Are Automated Book Delivery Systems (ABDS) the future of libraries?

At many libraries throughout the country, space is at a premium. The problem of storage and access to library materials, especially rare and/or rarely used collections, has been approached in a number of different ways. Some libraries choose to simply store these less frequently utilized materials in massive warehouses, sending couriers to retrieve them as needed (in some cases, such repositories are shared between multiple branches in a given region). Other institutions have embarked on mass digitization projects to transfer their bulky print collections into electronic formats which are easier to store and access. And then there are libraries such as the University of Chicago’s new Mansueto library, which have taken advantage of technological advances to create automated book delivery systems.

This New York Times article provides some details about the operations of the Mansueto library and other ABDS like it. Materials are kept in steel cases roughly 50 feet below ground until requested, at which point a complex system of cranes and elevators retrieve the needed text and delivers it to library staff.

At this point, you might be wondering, “But what about the serendipitous experience of browsing upon the perfect book by happenstance?” Luckily, many of these ABDS come equipped with some variety of virtual browse feature such as that found at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at NC State University (a description of their virtual browse system appears about 1:20 into the linked video). Additionally, ABDS exist partially to free up space on the cramped bookshelves of the main libraries which they are associated with, so the traditional browsing experience is still available in most cases as well.

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