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Australian Uni's Underground, Robot-Staffed Library

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the skynet-was-born-from-a-hatred-of-the-dewey-decimal-system dept.

Australia 46

angry tapir writes "As part of a $1 billion upgrade of its city campus, the University of Technology, Sydney is installing an underground automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) for its library collection. The ASRS is in response to the need to house a growing collection and free up physical space for the new 'library of the future', which is to open in 2015 to 2016, so that people can be at the center of the library rather than the books. The ASRS, which will connect to the new library, consists of six 15-meter high robotic cranes that operate bins filled with books. When an item is being stored or retrieved, the bins will move up and down aisles as well as to and from the library. Items will be stored in bins based on their spine heights. About 900,000 items will be stored underground, starting with 60 per cent of the library's collection and rising to 80 per cent. About 250,000 items purchased from the last 10 years will be on open shelves in the library. As items age, they will be relegated to the underground storage facility. The University of Chicago has invested in a similar system."

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Books? (4, Insightful)

hammeraxe (1635169) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266187)

What are these "books" you speak of?

Re:Books? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266327)

Printouts. But I suppose for some classes of books you need to see the actual physical object, including whatever has been added since it was printed.

Re:Books? (3, Insightful)

captaindomon (870655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266441)

Out of around 130 million different books in the world, only about 20-25 million of them have been scanned. Also, a book and the content are different things. A rare 400-year old book has a lot of intrinsic value even if the text is available in digital format. So storing physical objects in a library will be with us for a long time.

Re:Books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42269901)

A rare 400 year old book has less value if it's not digitized, because it can only be seen by a handful of people. A digitized book can be seen by millions directly, instead of filtered information by that handful.

Besides, those millions of books were written in the past hundred years, before that, there are still few books.

Re:Books? (1)

rioki (1328185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42270227)

Funny how you are both (P & GP) right and wrong. I think that the ultimate goal is to have all of mankind's achievements digitalized, be it cave paintings or Ottoman scientific writings. Nothing is more annoying that having to look into old archives for the original hard copies. (My wife is into "modern" History and needs to do that regularly.) Nevertheless in many cases the originals still have an intrinsic value; like a classic painting. Sure you can have a hi-res digital image and could even duplicate it down to the last brush stoke (i.e. a robot painting after digital analysis), but it is just not the same.

Re:Books? (2)

elynnia (815633) | about a year and a half ago | (#42267207)

I'm sorry, the disregard for books in these responses is unbelievable.

Sure, if one is studying engineering, mathematics or computer science one may question the necessity of having a massive collection of books in a library and wonder why it wouldn't be better to have just the latest data available online.

However, as it happens, these aren't the only things one studies at university. If you are doing history, the social sciences or literature, your degree involves a lot of open-ended research that may take you to esoteric, obscure topics. It may occur to you to need a 400-page book written 70 years ago about the dietary habits of third-century Roman slaves, or a structural analysis of how postcolonial policies affected Indonesian aristocracy. There is, simply put, far too much information distributed amongst so many books, every one of which are significant in some way.

This is why, as much as the system adopted by UTS IS a technological marvel, the notion of moving old books into storage and having "people [at] the center of the library rather than the books" is essentially flawed: a lot of study involves open-ended research and the ability to browse through shelf after shelf of books is crucial. At the University of Sydney just down the road where I studied, they are doing a similar library restructuring: adding more "study spaces" and moving hundreds of thousands of books from the open stack to (human-maintained) storage - and this changes people's study habits for the worst. Students are less likely to be successful in browsing the shelves and finding information they wants and other relevant texts, and become more used to looking at online article databases. Which have a bias towards things published more recently, and papers do not go into topics anywhere in depth as actual books - blinding students from the wealth of information locked away in the murky depths of "storage".

Universities are a place of learning, and the library should be the accessible fountain of knowledge that all ought to benefit from. Please, keeps the books forever.

Re:Books? (1)

sd4f (1891894) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268683)

As a student of UTS, it doesn't really live up to its name, it's like any of the other universities in australia, they do all the normal courses, it doesn't do anything particularly different to the other universities to really justify the "technology" name. With that said, i think the system is a white elephant, considering the amount of use it's going to get, and the preference for online materials by students; I don't think it's a good way to spend money. If anything, i think it's going to be a method to determine what books aren't required, and what to get rid of, as when books sit on a shelf, the university has no idea whether students actually use the books, students can use them without borrowing them, but, with this system, you will have to call every book. It will be cumbersome to have a look at anything potentially interesting in the section, as each book will probably have to be requested, whereas, at least on a shelf, you can have a look at numerous things, flick through, go to the next one.

Re:Books? (1)

rioki (1328185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42270259)

My experience with libraries seems to differ. Luckily I did not have to go though the shenanigans, since I studied information technology engineering; but my wife is into "modern" history. (modern == now - 500a) The way that works is, you log into the libraries site, either on a PC in the library or from home. You then search for books in the topic (and the search is crap), then you check the state of the book. If the book is not lent you write down all the numbers and locations of the books and then go get the book. In the library where she goes, the rarer books are in closed storage but you can still get them. Honestly, if a robot got the books, there would be no difference. The reason is, that be library is sorted alphabetically by age group. So you technically can't browse the shelves is you are seriously looking into a subject; unless you want to waste time. If you think about stumbling over a random interesting book, you can also do that in software; implement a "give me a random book" feature.

Robots are our friends (1)

davidwr (791652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266287)

Sometimes they like to slash and maim the books
but
Robots are our friends.

Good investment (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266325)

I would have just scanned them and thrown it on a 1TB disk. What a waste. Seems Aussie universities are swimming in money, thanks to government subsidies, much like the USA.

Did anyone else read this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266353)

as a library for banned (underground) texts, and get all excited?

CAPTCHA: eluded

Re:Did anyone else read this (4, Funny)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266447)

as a library for banned (underground) texts, and get all excited?

Next an underground text ban treaty?

Come to UTS (4, Funny)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266373)

Learn engineering! [i.qkme.me]

Re:Come to UTS (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42267317)

Nice.

Some background to this recent picture [abc.net.au] , for the non-locals.

Re:Come to UTS (1)

johnsnails (1715452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268301)

How dare you dig this up during a UTS PR stunt

Re:Come to UTS (2)

sd4f (1891894) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268699)

The terrible irony behind this is, that crane fell on the new engineering building, under construction...

Hope they are better 'cranes' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266409)

Hmmn, 15 meter high underground robot cranes?
Hope they are of better qualitiy/reliability that one of their building contactors 'outdoor' cranes that recently caught fire and fell - http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/uts-crane-collapse-was-an-accident-waiting-to-happen-20121127-2a4tl.html

Copyright is stupid (3, Insightful)

Aaden42 (198257) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266449)

Why in Finagle's name wouldn't you just convert to digital and keep the originals warehoused in dry storage, sans the robot overlords? Much easier to search, more quickly available, less likelihood of unsuspecting librarians being selected for "testing"

Oh right Copyright law is 40+ years behind technology. How silly of me

Re:Copyright is stupid (1)

prowler1 (458133) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268673)

There is a simple reason for this. Once you buy the book, you own the book and the only cost you then have is the housing of the book.

A large number of the books a university would need a digital copy of, you need to license said copy. This incurs a yearly fee and ends up costing a small fortune.

Obviously a means of gov't mind control (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266513)

Obviously the purpose is to enable the government and corporations to restrict access to information. If the book is objectionable or you don't fit the right profile, you're simply told it's unavailable or was never there in the first place. In a generation, 'Rules for Radicals' will be erased from the public's consciousness.

Re: Obviously a means of gov't mind control (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42270069)

Orwell was right

Am I the only one who thinks... (5, Interesting)

rbprbp (2731083) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266535)

... that the most interesting feature in library is discovery: finding related books just by looking at the nearby shelves? I will miss that when most libraries reach this degree of automation.

Re:Am I the only one who thinks... (2)

FriendlyStatistician (2652203) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266725)

One of my favorite things about the library at the university where I did my undergrad was that the shelves where they sorted books that had been returned before placing them back where they went were out in the open. Any given day I could walk by and browse through a couple thousand books that had been returned that day or the day before--a snapshot of books on every topic that people thought were worth reading (or, at least, worth checking out).

I think there's a lot of value in "transparent" libraries.

Re:Am I the only one who thinks... (1)

Harik (4023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42282743)

There's a lot behind this comment that is really important. Sure, you "can" do the same thing with an electronic view of recently returned books - but you have all sorts of crazy privacy implications. If you read on-site in a traditional library, you don't need a name associated with a book to browse the shelves and see what's related, you can anonymously put it in the returns without your identity ever being associated. And it's a lot more casual and discovery-oriented: A lot of times I would walk through a section dedicated to fiction, grab something at random and read a bit of it to see if I liked it. If I did, I might finish it there, or check it out. Automated delivery is very goal-oriented: I know I want THIS book, go fetch it for me and ignore everything else next to it. At best, it could have a 'related reading' list which rapidly becomes a self-reinforcing subset of the available books.

I think we should digitize everything - but keep traditional libraries traditional. Just don't fill an entire moon with books.

No, you're not alone (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266853)

Looking up a book, then browsing the ones next to it is great research strategy.

To some extent you can gain a similar ability if the library catalog allows you to browse the titles "on the shelf" (in this case, of course, they wouldn't physically be next to it)... but it's still not the same as being able to pick up the next title, flip to the table of contents, and see if it's relevant. This problem isn't limited to automated systems... many large or special libraries require you to request books individually, and they are brought to you by library workers (e.g., Library of Congress, European Commission library, most archives).

On the other hand, if this system allows them to keep many more books than they otherwise could, that's a good thing...

Re:Am I the only one who thinks... (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | about a year and a half ago | (#42270987)

The Bodleian Library in Oxford has operated a similar underground system for many years, although I think they use minions rather than robots to find the books. I always found it a rather empty and disappointing experience to be so close to so many books, but to only handle the particular one I had requested.

The new library at EPFL in Switzerland is much better. They have a fancy building above ground, some of which houses books. But most of them are kept in stacks underground, so they're tightly packed but still accessible.

+1 for guided random searches (a.k.a. following the shelf where you found a good one).

Re:Am I the only one who thinks... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a year and a half ago | (#42274855)

"People who perused this book also perused..."

Re:Am I the only one who thinks... (1)

Harik (4023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42282771)

Self-reinforcing. Start with an empty 'related' database and a huge library of books. The first person browsing leaves a distinct fingerprint on the database, because the second person 'sees' the first's trail, and follows it. The joy of a traditional library is there is no path trod into the browsing experience, every discovery is fresh, no matter how many times it's been done before.

To get an idea of how it works out in practice, check out the completely bonkers amazon reccomendations for super-low-traffic items.

80? (2)

fatlotus (1434109) | about a year and a half ago | (#42266631)

It's interesting that they're migrating so many of their books to the ASRS so soon. I went on the Mansueto Tour at the University of Chicago, and they plan to only use their robot for overflow. Their perspective is that their role is to preserve "traditional library experience," of which the new library is just a footnote.

Nobody will have predicted ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266699)

that these underground facilities will be flooded and priceless items lost.

I mean, who could imagine such a disastrous possiblity?

Carry on.

Re:Nobody will have predicted ... (2)

GumphMaster (772693) | about a year and a half ago | (#42267049)

Yeah, 'cause it unheard of that an above-ground library on top of a mountain could be lost: ANU Astronomy 2003 http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~rjp0i/mso/library_interior2.large.jpg [virginia.edu] Disasters happen.

Re:Nobody will have predicted ... (1)

Ocker3 (1232550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268551)

That looks more like fire then water damage rather than just a flood.

Re:Nobody will have predicted ... (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | about a year and a half ago | (#42268663)

Fire and shelving melt/collapse, no substantial water involved. Once the fire fighters left fighting the fire coming up the mountain they did not come back until at least a day later... we were busy fighting fires in the 500+ homes that burnt down that same day (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Canberra_bushfires [wikipedia.org] and http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~rjp0i/mso [virginia.edu] ). The point was not that it flooded, but that the collection was lost to an unforeseen event. Put it in a basement and it can be lost to flood, fire, earthquake... put it above ground and you can still lose it.

On the land down-under (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42266825)

There is a library where algorithms upload books to readers who download them from a book tracker.

Copying Macquarie University (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42267235)

Sydney's Macquarie University already has an undergroud library with a mechanical book retrival system. The new Macquarie University library has been open for about a year and a half. http://www.library.mq.edu.au/newlibrary/

Uni? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42267329)

I thought this was going to be about sea urchin...

That site is an industrial accident (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42267535)

Hey is that the site that the 100 foot crane fell onto? Maybe that's why it's underground - safety from the engineering department's errors....

Retards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42267683)

UTS obviously hasnt discovered the power of PDF'ing the books int he first place. This kind of investment is retarded.

NCSU's opens sooner (1)

dfarrell07 (2459822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42267931)

North Carolina State University's new Hunt Library has a similar system. It is scheduled to open on January 2nd 2013. The bookBot will eventually mange 2 million books. It currently manges 1.3 million books, and you can watch as more books are added via the library's site [ncsu.edu] .

University of Chicago (1)

cyocum (793488) | about a year and a half ago | (#42270655)

The University of Chicago has already just done this [uchicago.edu] .

Macquarie Uni been there done that '12 (1)

mindfullygreen (2794323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42270759)

Macquarie Uni - also in Sydney - completed a 70m new university library March 2012 with automated book retrieval. And just to get competitive, It's got heaps of space with whiteboards, projectors and even a million litres of water on the roof for aircon (five green star rating). NB I'm not a Macquarie staff but former student who goes to the library any chance I can get. http://youtu.be/_4If8xFSDgg [youtu.be]

Vertical vs. Horizontal (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#42271433)

I always wondered if placing hardback books vertically on a shelf was a bad idea in the long term, mainly as the covers are almost always longer than the pages, leaving a space between the actual pages and the shelf, placing great stress on the binding as the pages are essentially a cantilever beam.

Of course, stacking books horizontally to take up the same amount of shelf space might be just as bad with the compressive stress on pages (ink) at the bottom of the pile. And just the act of removing the the book at the bottom of the stack could cause damage as well.

But yeah; automated scanning before they're placed in long-term (and one hopes well thought out fire prevention / suppression) storage.

Re:Vertical vs. Horizontal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42304447)

simple,stack the books so there is little to no space between them, disregarding aisles.. fire starts, uses up all the oxygen in the storage vault. fire goes out.

Suggestion (1)

cre_slash (744044) | about a year and a half ago | (#42285777)

Slightly off-topic, but may I suggest that they install a serious fire-prevention system. If one of these robots caught fire, it could turn into an epic disaster...
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