Libraries Swap Stacks of Books for Robotic Retrieval Programs

What do you expect to see when you enter a library on an university campus? Besides dozens of students cramming information into their brains in the hours before an exam, I expect to see thousands upon thousands of books. However, as part of its overhaul of its library, San Francisco State University is going against the norm and has hidden away 75 percent of its books in favor of digitizing its collection.
This school is not alone. In fact, many schools are digitizing their libraries in an effort to make it easier for students to find the volumes they are looking for. At San Francisco State University, the old library was a “rabbits’ warren,” according to the librarian, Deborah Masters. Now, after its “facelift,” the library has put an emphasis on open spaces, more computer and technology available for students’ use, and areas where students can study in groups or grab a coffee in the new cafe.
Some books will remain on display where students can access them on their own. These books will be the ones that are in highest demand, were published recently, or are recommended by a specific department. If a student wants to reach one of the many other books that are not currently on display, he can enter his query in a search engine, which will then cue a robot in another building to retrieve the book and delver it to the student in the library. This entire process is expected to take less than 10 minutes.
Although this process sounds very cool and hi-tech, not everyone is thrilled by it.
“There’s a trend now where books are being store in big vats and they aren’t available for us to touch and see,” said Peter Orner, a creative writing professor at the university. Orner feels that by removing the physical books from the library, the school is doing its students – and future writers – a big disservice. “I wouldn’t be a writer if, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I didn’t wander the open stacks. I would argue strongly that the Internet is not a substitute for a college library.”
Masters is not concerned by Orner’s complaint: “Most of the concerns center around the issues of browsing stacks physically, of serendipity and discovery. I don’t want to lose that either, but you need to be able to transfer that experience to the online environment.”
No matter how you feel about the subject, it does seem that this trend of digitizing university libraries is gaining momentum. There are currently more than a dozen universities in the USA that have recently installed a robotic system for retrieving books that are not available on the library floor and I am sure this number will just continue to grow in the future.
Via The New York Times