Thinking cap

Construction on the Mansueto Library continues under the now-complete dome.

By Giovanni Wrobel

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Now that the panes of the Mansueto Library dome have been installed and the passageway to the Regenstein assembled, seeing the construction’s progress has become difficult for a passerby from the outside.

But in the chasm that will soon hold 3.5 million of the library’s books, workers are busy assembling the state-of-the-art automated shelving and retrieval system (ASRS), one of the primary features of the new library, meant to privilege storage space over study space.

Mansueto will house almost as many volumes as the Regenstein, located as far as 50 feet below ground, according to the project website. Slated for completion in the spring, library staffers think the robotic retrieval system will make storing volumes extremely efficient, without affecting the way readers interact with the library.

“Items that benefit most from browsing, such as monographs, will be left on the Library shelves, while items such as periodicals that have been digitized and are available online, or are indexed electronically, will be stored in the ASRS,” said Rachel Rosenberg, the Library’s communications director, in an e-mail.

Crews are working in the basement to assemble the shelving units and install the elevator. Above ground, crews are building the structural supports for the walls that will section off parts of the main level into the reading room, the circulation service center, the digital technology laboratory, and the conservation department.

Once the basement work is complete, older books from the Special Collections will be moved to the book bins first, and volumes from the smaller on-campus libraries will also have preference, leaving room for storage expansions until 2029.

The ASRS is being assembled by HK Systems.

Construction teams have taken on additional weekend shifts to quicken the pace—Mansueto is slated for opening in the Spring—and the vendor of the ASRS has added extra shifts, increasing its weekday work until 10 p.m.

Though shifts have increased, there have been few noise complaints. "Most of the really loud construction gets done in the early morning, but it varies from day to day," said Julia Gardner, a Reference and Instruction Librarian from Special Collections. Special Collections is currently going through its own restructuring, also set to be finished by Spring 2011.

Construction will progress more consistently now that the dome is finished, because "bad weather will have less of an impact on construction at this phase of the process, now that the floor is in place and the dome is covered," Rosenberg wrote. Construction was originally scheduled to be completed in this fall.

Rosenberg said that the delays they experienced were unavoidable realities, citing the worse-than-anticipated weather, and the lengthy permit acquisition process.

This is not the first time ASRS technology has been used in university libraries.

Chicago State University, University of Louisville, Santa Clara University, Sonoma State College, and Colgate University all have used this new technology in their libraries. The system owes its popularity to the number of books that can be stored, its efficiency and ease of management, and increased control over temperature and humidity, which increases shelf-life.