Library Director Quote
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library being constructed in the shape of an ellipse? Why are materials being stored underground?

A: The selected underground elliptical design is simultaneously most functional, most cost effective and most aesthetically pleasing in comparison to above-ground and rectangular designs that were considered. It provides the most cost-effective option with respect to book storage capacity.

Positioning the automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) below ground minimizes the undesirable vertical impact that this structure would have if it were positioned above ground. Instead, the elliptical glass-domed ground floor adds to the beauty and architectural significance of the University of Chicago campus.

Q: What is an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), and how does it work?

A: In high-density automated shelving, bar-coded items are sorted by size and stored in bins and metal shelf units. These bins and shelf units are housed in storage racks that can be constructed up to 55 feet in height (the Library's storage racks will be 50 feet in height, positioned underground). These storage units are retrieved automatically by means of a robotic crane.

Q: How will library patrons access materials in the new building and how long will it take to do so?

A: After locating materials through the Library's catalog or search engine, Library patrons will request the items they want online. A robotic crane will retrieve the bins or shelf units containing the requested items almost immediately (within 5 minutes), and deliver them to the ground floor, where a library staff member will pull them and deliver them to the patron. Patrons will pick up general collections material at the service desk near the beautiful Grand Reading Room, where they may consult them if they choose. Special collections materials will be taken by staff to the Special Collections Research Center; consultation of that material will be restricted to the Special Collections Research Center reading room.

Q: How many books, periodicals, and other materials will be housed in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library?

A: The automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library has the capacity to house up to 3.5 million volumes and will provide collection growth space through 2029. Two thirds of that space will be devoted to bins that will contain standard size bound journals and books. One third will be devoted to shelf racks that will store oversize books (elephant folios) and special collections materials in archival storage boxes.

Q: Why is an on-campus high-density automated shelving system being used, as opposed to off-campus high-density storage or on-campus open shelving?

A: In evaluating these options, the following conclusions were reached:

Q: How is the underground collection storage space being protected from fire?

A: Fires in the underground storage space are highly unlikely because there will be very few potential ignition sources within the storage space. In addition, testing conducted by Factory Mutual indicates that within the bin storage portion of the system, available oxygen would likely not support a fire. The new building's fire suppression equipment includes sprinklers throughout the building—at the top of the dome, at the ceiling level in the storage space, and at intermediate levels within the rack storage aisle. It is expected that the ASRS crane masts will allow firefighting personnel to gain access to all parts of the storage space.

Q: How is the underground collection storage space being protected from water damage?

A: Numerous protective measures will be implemented:

Q: How will the glass dome (both the interior and the exterior) be kept clean?

A: The design will provide for harness anchors necessary for exterior glass cleaning, glass replacement and other exterior maintenance work. Clearances within the connecting bridge will allow for lifts to be brought in for interior glass cleaning and other overhead work.

Q: How is the environmental impact of the building being minimized?

A: The environmental impact of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is being minimized as follows:

Q: What protective measures will be taken to prevent birds from being injured or killed by flying into the glass of the dome?

A: Glass in the dome that is higher than 18 feet above ground will be coated with a ceramic frit consisting of 1/8-inch dots arranged in a pattern creating 80% opacity.

Q: What is happening to the trees located where the new library building is going?

A: Many of the trees on the site have been or will be relocated to other places on the campus, while some will remain and be protected during the construction process. A small number will be removed because of their condition. Once construction is completed there will also be space for new trees to be added to the site because of the minimal footprint of the underground design.

Specific arrangements have been made for the trees that were located west of the Joseph Regenstein Library in memory of departed University of Chicago librarians, including three crabapple trees with deep pink blooms in memory of Ruth Murray, former bibliographer for education, psychology and women's studies; and two cypress trees planted in memory of Hans Lenneberg, former Music Librarian, and his constant lunch companion, Charles Helzer, former Humanities Bibliographer. The crabapple trees have been relocated just across 56th Street and placed between the Young Building and the Smart Museum (just to the south of Smart). The cypress trees were moved to the northwest corner of the Bartlett Quadrangle. Unfortunately, two lilac bushes in memory of Christine Reb Longstreet, former head of Reference, are not healthy enough to be moved; they will be removed closer to the actual start of construction. There is a plan for new memorial groves to be planted to replace this entire grouping when the building is complete. Another tree, in memory of former Slavic bibliographer Vaclav Laska, located to the northwest of the Library, will not need to be moved.

Q: Why is there not a separate entrance to the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library?

A: For security reasons, patrons will enter the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library through Joseph Regenstein Library.

Q: Who will be allowed into the automated storage and retrieval work areas?

A: For safety reasons, only library staff trained in operating the automated storage and retrieval system and facilities staff trained in servicing the system will be allowed into these areas.

Q: How will the heating and cooling be distributed within the dome? Will the all-glass exterior make it difficult to regulate the temperature during a cold winter or hot summer?

A: Several steps will be taken:

Q: Are the building plans, as illustrated in the drawings, final?

A: There will likely be minor adjustments within some of the individual spaces, but major architectural elements are final.

Q: Is the Henry Moore sculpture "Nuclear Energy" being moved to make room for the new building?

A: No. The sculpture is a registered national historic landmark and will remain in place, north of the new building site.

Do you have a question about the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library that has not been answered here or on other pages of this Web site? If so, please contact us.