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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 10 | Oct. 6, 2005

Do Library Robots Dream of Electronic Books?

By Lorraine Chan

Canada’s first and North America’s largest library robot is up and running at the newly opened Phase One of UBC’s $68 million Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

The completed north wing of the Learning Centre has been two years in the making. It houses the robot, a state-of-the-art Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) that expands the Library’s capacity to house print materials. The wing also features a fireproof vault for rare and special collections and the Ridington Room, a new double-floor reading area with original, commissioned glass artwork.

In 2002, UBC alumnus Irving K. (Ike) Barber, founding chairman of Slocan Forest Products Ltd., donated more than $20 million to renovate and expand access to the services and the knowledge base of UBC’s Main Library. The B.C. Government contributed $10 million and UBC matched these sums.

The new construction replaces the Main Library’s original north wing built in 1948. The ASRS consists of four aisles, each measuring 100 feet long, 65 feet high and 45 feet wide. Floor-to-ceiling shelves store 19,000 stainless steel bins, which contain about 800,000 bar-coded volumes and other materials. In each aisle, automated mini-load cranes slide back and forth on tracks.

The ASRS is linked to the Library’s online catalogue. After Library staff or users request an item, the robotic cranes identify and retrieve the correct steel bin, matching the location of the bin to the requested bar code. The automated cranes deliver bins to a sorting station where staff retrieve and relay requested items to the circulation desk. The entire process takes about two minutes.

The ASRS stores 30 per cent of the collections previously housed in the Main Library, much of which was in locked storage. With the capacity to store 1.8 million volumes, the ASRS provides growth space for at least the next 15 years. The Library has a circulating collection of about 500,000 items that remain on open shelving, available for browsing.

Construction has now begun on the centre and south wings of the Main Library. The original core was built in the 1920s and the south wing was built in the 1960s.

When completed in 2007, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre will have about 200,000 square feet of new floor space and more than 46,000 square feet of renovated floor space, fully equipped to support wireless and other innovative technologies.

The Learning Centre will serve as a gateway to UBC’s extensive library collections and to other library collections around the world. It will boast a lap-top loan program, computer labs and will house some of UBC innovative interdisciplinary learning programs.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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