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The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library 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 do library patrons access materials in the new building and how long does it take to do so?

A: After locating materials through the Library's catalog or search engine, Library patrons request the items they want online. A robotic crane retrieves the bins or shelf units containing the requested items almost immediately (within 5 minutes), and delivers them to the ground floor, where a library staff member pulls them and delivers them to the patron. Patrons 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 are taken by staff to the Special Collections Research Center; consultation of that material is restricted to the Special Collections Research Center reading room.

Q: How many books, periodicals, and other materials can 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. Two thirds of that space is devoted to bins that will contain standard size bound journals and books. One third is devoted to shelf racks that will store oversize books (elephant folios) and special collections materials in archival storage boxes.

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 are implemented:

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

A: The design provides for harness anchors necessary for exterior glass cleaning, glass replacement and other exterior maintenance 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 have been 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 is coated with a ceramic frit consisting of 1/8-inch dots arranged in a pattern creating 80% opacity.

Q: What happened to the trees located on the building site?

A: Many of the trees on the site have been relocated to other places on the campus, remain and were protected during the construction process. A small number were removed because of their condition. Once construction was completed, new trees were added to the site because of the minimal footprint of the underground design.

Specific arrangements were 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, were not healthy enough to be moved. New trees were planted to replace this entire grouping. Another tree, in memory of former Slavic bibliographer Vaclav Laska, located to the northwest of the Library, did 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 enter the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library through Joseph Regenstein Library.

Q: Who od 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 are allowed into these areas.

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

A: Several steps were taken:

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

A: No. The sculpture is a registered national historic landmark and remained 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.