New Stacks Technology Revolutionizes UChicago Library System

While I’ll never be the biggest proponent of technology, here is one that I could get behind. The University of Chicago has finished construction on what they believe will be the ‘library of the future.’ If you think the ‘library of the future’ is merely digital – a glorified internet database – then think again. Chicago’s new library, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, is a real library – you can check out real books with paper pages just like at any other. Except it’s not. There are no stacks within the visible structure. Rather, the building houses 3.5 million bound volumes in a temperature and humidity controlled underground bunker. This in itself is hardly revolutionary – libraries have stored underground in climate controlled for years now. What is new is the way students and scholars access the books. Instead of taking an elevator fifty feet down and spending hours scanning the stacks, squinting to read the Dewey Decimal code on the books’ spines, the patron merely requests the text at the circulation desk and three minutes later it appears there. But how does the library do it? Has the University finally figured out how to harness the power of elves? Well, no. The bunker contains a robot which plucks a book from its innards and transports it up. I personally don’t quite understand all the tech behind it but there’s a video at the bottom of the page which should explain most of it. Is this truly the future of libraries? Maybe, maybe not. At $81 million dollars, the way of the future won’t be cheap. But if it keeps print alive, it’s probably worth it.



–Benjamin M. Riley