from the Library of Maura

In the Library She’s a Tourist

July 29th, 2012 · 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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Two Legs to Stand On

February 12th, 2011 · 3 Comments

Last month this blog post on the New York Times website made the rounds of my Twitter stream. Apparently evidence is growing that too much sitting can be harmful to our health, even for those who exercise regularly. I’ve been reading about the benefits of standing desks for a while now, and this was the push I needed to give it a try. Plus, that fat cat was really scary.

I can’t justify buying a whole new desk, so I set to figuring out how to rig a temporary standing desk at home and at work. Home is somewhat easier because my primary computer is a laptop. We have lots of big, big books, and it turned out to be no trouble at all to pile a bunch of books on the dining room table and pop my computer on top. Here’s what it looks like:

But most weekdays I’m in the library, so I wanted to try a standing desk at work, too. Lots of books there, of course, but I can’t just take books from the stacks to pile on my desk. Enter some extra metal journal holders that were sitting on the shelves in my office when I moved in last semester. As it happens, when you place 4 of them next to each other and turn them face down, they make a perfectly sized surface for my computer keyboard. Another two together fit the mousepad and mouse. Then I pull up my computer monitor and tilt it back slightly, and my temp standing desk for the office is all set:

In some ways the work setup is even better than the pile of books at home, because the keyboard is close to the edge of the journal holders which encourages me not to drop my wrists as I type.

Both setups are easy to put up and take down quickly, which is important because one thing I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks is that I’m not ready to move to a standing desk full time. Certain things are more difficult to do while standing, like eating while working or writing in longhand (though the latter would likely be easier on a real rather than temp standing desk).

But I’ve found that I really enjoy having the option to stand or sit while I work. Standing seems to make it easier for me to focus on certain tasks, like sustained work on a project. On the other hand, if I’ve been running around between meetings and teaching and other stuff, it’s nice to sit down for a spell.

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