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The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library

Automated Storage and Retrieval System

Cross-section Drawing      

Architect Helmut Jahn's rendering of a cross-section of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, showing the automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) underground and the glass dome above ground. 


In high-density automated shelving systems, barcoded items are sorted by size and stored in bins. The technology underlying high-density automated shelving (known as automated storage and retrieval systems, or ASRS) has been used in other industries for many years. Ford and GM store new cars in such systems. The Chicago Tribune uses an ASRS for assembling its Sunday papers.

Only in recent years has this type of high-density automated storage technology been adapted from large-scale industries for use in the modern research library. University librarians will select volumes for inclusion in the ASRS that least require browsing, such as journals and serials available in electronic form, and those that benefit most from environmentally stable conditions, such as fragile archival materials.

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library's ASRS will shelve materials underground by size rather than library classification, in racks 50 feet high, with a capacity to hold 3.5 million volumes in one-seventh of the space of conventional shelves.

Crane between binsAll items selected for the ASRS will have their barcodes scanned and will be placed in barcoded bins that will be stored in the ASRS. Each item will be scanned whenever it is removed from and returned to the ASRS, as will the new bin into which the item is deposited. This will allow the Library's computerized systems to track the location of all materials stored in the ASRS at all times, and will allow Library patrons to request materials from any computer with an Internet connection, via the Library Catalog. Rare and archival materials from the Special Collections Research Center will be stored in boxes that will be barcoded and stored in special racks along with extremely large materials (elephant folios) and retrieved in a similar manner. Upon request, a robotic crane will retrieve materials stored in the ASRS almost instantaneously (within minutes of a patron's order).

Smaller ASRS installations are currently in use or planned for only a handful of U.S. research libraries. The University of Chicago's multimillion volume installation will free shelves in the Joseph Regenstein, John Crerar, and D'Angelo Law libraries for materials that faculty, visiting scholars, and students want to discover by serendipitous browsing.

Dematic, which constructed the the Library's ASRS, prepared this video, which illustrates how the system functions.  It begins with an overview of a concept of the ground level of the Mansueto Library and illustrates how the robotic crane retrieves materials from the storage system and brings them to the ground level, where Library staff members will retrieve them from bins or racks and deliver them to Library patrons. Although the video shows a staff member working in the underground storage area, it will not be routinely necessary for a staff member to process materials below ground.

The ASRS was constructed in five phases.

  1. Rack components were delivered in bundles and lowered into the basement while dome was constructed above ground.
  2. Rack construction began in the outer two aisles in the basement, working from the north end to the south. Once each outer aisle was completed, work moved to the inner aisles, and then finish with the center aisle.
  3. Crane construction was completed inside the basement, and the cranes were fitted into their racks as completed.
  4. Empty bins were installed.
  5. Final commissioning and inspections were conducted.



Photo by John Pitcher