Space-starved UMKC library adds retrieval robots

Saturday, June 5, 2010 | 6:26 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — The space-starved Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is going vertical and adding retrieval robots.

Eventually, 80 percent of its collection will be housed either in bins placed on four-story steel shelving structures or in larger carts. The Kansas City Star reported that robotic cranes will be used to fetch materials from such storage starting this summer.

It's all part of a $70 million library renovation project. About $20 million was used to buy the robots and build a 31,000-square-foot addition to the main library building where the materials will be stored.

Library officials said the automated system allowed the renovation to focus on such improvements as new study areas, computer labs, meeting rooms, event spaces and an expanded cafe.

"What's happened over the past 40 years is that as the collection continued to grow, it pushed out room for the students," said Mark Mattison, library advancement officer.

Already, 17 libraries in North America have turned to automated storage and retrieval systems, none of them in Missouri or Kansas.

"This is going to become more commonplace for libraries," said Sharon Bostick, dean of libraries at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She said libraries everywhere are contemplating their options.

"Our library is full," Bostick said. "We're packed to the gills."

Bostick said the automated system was economical, and the new storage area protects the collections with environmental controls and keeps them safe from theft.

Best of all is the space the system saves.

"If we built a conventional facility holding the same number of items, it would take seven times the space," said Bonnie Postlethwaite, UMKC associate dean of libraries.

Besides the 800,000 items that will be part of the automated system, about 200,000 books and other materials will remain on open shelves in the original library building.



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