from the Library of Maura

In the Library She’s a Tourist

July 29th, 2012 by Maura A. Smale · 1 Comment

Library tourism! Do all librarians love it? I think signs (probably) point to yes.

Last month we took a quick vacation to visit family and friends in the Midwest and had the chance to indulge in some library tourism, too, in a visit to the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago. Even if you’re not a library nerd you may have heard about Mansueto: last fall Wired ran a short piece about it last year when it opened.

Lots of large research libraries have run into trouble storing their collections in recent years as their available shelfspace has filled to capacity. Some of those libraries contract with offsite storage facilities, typically a good ways away from the campus, which deliver requested books daily. At the U of C they decided to turn the tennis courts next to the enormous Regenstein Library (the main non-science library on campus) into an onsite storage area…using the power of robots!

Mansueto is not tall aboveground but cuts an imposing figure nonetheless: a broad glass oval-shaped dome on the lawn. The dome encloses an incredibly quiet reading room and a preservation and conservation laboratory (very cool, like the visible science exhibits at natural history museums), divided in the middle by the circulation desk. But the real secret is below: a book storage system that reaches 50 feet down underground and uses robotic cranes to retrieve items requested by readers. The robot library of the future!

Unfortunately there weren’t any tours happening on the day we visited, so I can’t share any crazy robot photos with you, but there are some cool videos on the Mansueto website if you’d like to check out the robots.

I felt a little guilty even walking around the space — it was really quiet, and I think we got the stinkeye more than once as we tried to tiptoe around. The reading room has long tables with lighting and outlets and I could instantly see myself getting lots of work done in that kind of space. Have I mentioned how quiet it was?

There were also a few study rooms — essentially glass cubes with a desk and chair inside. They’re really beautiful.

It strikes me that these glass cubes might be a good solution for libraries that want to add study rooms in spots that weren’t originally designed for them. For example, at City Tech we have a 2-story library with one long wall of windows. We’ve been thinking of doing some rearranging so that we could accommodate more study rooms, but we probably don’t want to put them along the windows because that would restrict the amount of natural light that the rest of the library gets. A glass cube study room could go anywhere, even in the middle of a room. As @lwaltzer and the U of C responded to a tweet of mine, we could call them thinkquariums or think tanks!

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1 response so far ↓

  • Round Up : Footenotes // Jul 30th 2012 at 1:22 am

    […] at University of Chicago.  Along the way she managed to cause an inter-collegiate incident by disturbing the precious minds of UC at work.  I have a few good friends at Chicago…the silence in that room was probably […]

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