The new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago looks, aboveground, nothing like a library. It's all glass and steel and arching support columns that leave the primary space wide open for tables and chairs. Curiously absent from the library are shelving units and the books one would expect to find on them. They're all buried deep underground.
Beneath the library, a 50-foot-tall cavern holds the equivalent of 3.5 million volumes. "The system keeps books, journals and special holdings in optimal preservation conditions and can retrieve them within minutes for library users," according to a new video that reveals how the custom system will function. "It will allow the University of Chicago to keep book collections in a central location, readily available for scholars in many fields."
The basics: A team of librarians load the books, about 100 at a time, into 24,000 bins that are tagged with barcodes and kept on huge storage racks that sit directly underneath the library. Five cranes work together to bring bins to the librarians when a student or faculty member requests an item. The whole process should take less than five minutes, "meaning most students can request a book and have it ready for pick-up by the time they've crossed the campus and reached the library," according to Wired's Epicenter.
The primary space has been completed and was opened to students on Monday, May 16, but it will take another year to finish the underground storage space and catalog the millions of items it will hold.
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