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But Where Are the Books?

As academic libraries evolve beyond information storage, institutions turn to space-saving automated retrieval systems.
University Business, Sep 2008

SOME MIGHT QUESTION THE need for libraries, with so much now available online. But campus libraries have evolved into much more than information storage facilities, says Joseph Rizzo, an architect for RMJM Hillier. “Libraries are becoming part of the broader academic and social mission.” Typical amenities now include quiet study spaces, meeting rooms, cafes, and even fireplaces. Rizzo’s work on more than 80 library projects, especially those at universities, has revealed four “C’s”: celebratory welcome spaces, collaborative work places, communal experiences (e.g., the traditional “reading room”), and contemplative spaces.

The evolution of libraries to meet a range of needs leaves librarians in a quandary. If space must go toward so many things besides books, where is the ever-expanding print collection supposed to fit?

“A knee-jerk reaction of putting everything on single shelves seems indefensible,” says Ron Danielson, vice provost for information services at Santa Clara University (Calif.). No one has the space for that.

“Shelving no longer drives planning,” explained consultant Scott Bennett, principal of Urbana, Ill.,-based Library Space Planning, during a session at a SCUP regional conference held at Yale in March. Bennett is also seeing libraries become less transactional and more instructional.

These factors have all contributed to the adoption of pricey automated (or robotic) storage and retrieval systems on some college campuses. Librarians remove books from shelves and add them to large bins. When a book is requested, the system sends the correct bin to the front and notes where to find the book within it. It can later be put back in another bin; staff will scan returned items and the system knows where to get them next time.

While more traditional librarians may take time to adjust to an electronic retrieval system, students seem to take to them right away. In fact, on at least one campus Rizzo has heard stories of students using it a tremendous amount when it first opened?“because they wanted to see if they could fool it.” Games aside, these systems are one solution that some higher ed institutions have found for the shelving crunch.


--PROJECT VITALS: $95 million new building with 194,000 square feet, completed in March 2008

--RETRIEVAL SYSTEM FACTS: A three-story-high bay takes up about 8,000 square feet and has a 1-million-volume capacity. The system was built before the rest of the building and in use about two years prior to the project’s completion. Thirty-minute retrievals were then advertised, and now students can expect to wait just 10 minutes. Subject specialists and faculty decided which books to initially place in the system. Something checked out a few times in a given period will likely wind up on an open shelf, says Ron Danielson, vice provost for information services and CIO. At the current rate of adding materials, officials expect to accommodate 20 years of growth.

--OTHER BUILDING HIGHLIGHTS: Staff and services of the library, information technology department, and media services department are all housed in the facility, with a help desk staffed by people from various departments. Each of the 28 group study rooms includes ceiling-mounted projectors and equipment for students to videotape themselves for presentation practice. In addition to 1,150 reader seats, open spaces and learning areas include a third-floor reading room with 20-foot ceilings, a two-story information commons, a “living room” space at the bottom of the atrium, and a caf?. The special collections are more accessible than in the past.

--PROJECT TEAM: Pheiffer Partners Architects (Los Angeles); HK Systems, retrieval system (Milwaukee)


--PROJECT VITALS: $14.2 million, 51,000-square-foot addition to the 1981 building completed in spring 2006

--RETRIEVAL SYSTEM FACTS: The 48-foot-high, 8,000-square-foot system can hold 1.2 million volumes. Located behind the circulation desk, the system obtains books by request in two to five minutes and currently houses 600,000 volumes. Library staff did some public relations work to get faculty buy-in, says Hannelore Rader, dean of the university libraries at the university. Rader adds that taking inventories of books is much easier with the system in place.


--OTHER BUILDING HIGHLIGHTS: The expansion, which includes a large staired terrace, was placed at the rear of the original building, creating a new public image for the university along Third Street and addressing the goal of connecting recent residential expansions to the west with the main campus. Organized on three levels surrounding an atrium with lots of natural light, the addition is connected to Ekstrom’s original five levels via a glass-lined stairway. A 24/7 cybercaf?, several computer labs, seminar rooms, open reading areas on the upper level, and a 150-seat auditorium serve users. Close to three million people visit the campus library now per year?compared to about half that prior to the addition, says Rader.

--PROJECT TEAM: RMJM Hillier architects (Princeton, N.J.), in association with Voelker Blackburn Architects (Louisville)

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