North Carolina State University has deployed a robot in its James B. Hunt Library. The building houses a collection of over 1.5 million books stored in more than 18,000 bins. When a student requests a book, a robot retrieves it for them. Gone are the days of browsing the stacks, it seems.
The book robot, known as a bookBot, is unusual, but it's more prevalent than the library's other technology, said Joan Lippincott, associate executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information.
Four robots slide between rows of bins 50 feet deep and 120 feet high. A staffer files a student's request for a book on a computer, and the robot locates the right bin, pulls it out and leaves the bin in front of the staffer, who locates the right book and takes it to the student.
The library was designed by a team of Norwegian engineers and will have its grand opening next month. It boasts a team of four bookBots that zip around the bins, retrieving books as requested by students. Designers estimate that this storage method takes up one-ninth of the space that traditional shelving would require.
"The Hunt Library, in my view, is the academic library with the widest array of technologies in the country," Lippincott told NBC 17 in North Carolina. "And they've very carefully integrated their technology program with the university's research, learning and teaching mission," she said. "They didn't just do this to be cool. They did this because of the nature of N.C. State, and the kind of academic and research programs that they have."
Students and faculty told officials wanted a high-tech library, said Maurice York, director of IT for the school's libraries.
"And we had to sort of figure out what that means," he said. "There really aren't that many models out there."
The answers involved a supercomputer, stored in the basement; a visualization lab where an English professor and his class have recreated a 3D version of the old St. Paul's Cathedral in London (which burned in 1666) and where students listen to sermons by John Donne; and a creativity lab where the Naval ROTC students can work on the deck of a 3D ship.
It also involved 100 areas for collaborative study; walls made of whiteboards; a traditional library area with about 40,000 books on shelves; and a snack bar on the first floor.