If the crowds of students who filled the seats in its reading room since last spring are any indication, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library has quickly become a campus favorite. And it’s getting attention beyond campus, too: local architecture critic Lee Bey hailed the reading room as “one of the most breathtaking interior spaces in the city.”

But the Helmut Jahn – designed dome is just part of the reason why Wired magazine pronounced Mansueto “the library of the future.” Across from the reading room are new work areas for conservation and digitization. (Chicago has partnered with the Google Books Library Project to digitize part of its holdings.) The 55-foot-deep basement below the dome houses the world’s largest automated book retrieval system, capable of storing 3.5 million volumes.

At a time when many other research universities are relegating parts of their collections to off-site storage, the University of Chicago Library has committed to keeping its materials on campus for scholars’ use. The automated retrieval system takes mere minutes to retrieve a book in response to a user’s request — about the same amount of time that it takes that user to walk from a computer terminal in the lobby of the Joseph Regenstein Library to the circulation desk in Mansueto. By moving journals, dissertations, and certain items from Special Collections to Mansueto’s automated storage area, the Library also frees up shelf space in the book stacks for works that users might find useful to browse.

The construction of Mansueto had a positive side effect: building a bridge between the Regenstein and Mansueto libraries led to a revamp of the Special Collections Research Center. The SCRC emerged with a more user-friendly space, which includes a new exhibit gallery adjoining the walkway to the bridge.

Since library access is a perk of having a degree from the University, alumni are welcome to experience life under the dome during normal operating hours. (The Regenstein’s entrance serves as an entryway for both buildings.) On Humanities Day, October 22, alumni and friends can attend a tour and talk at Special Collections given by Robert Bird, associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures.

Watch "The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library: How It Works" on YouTube.


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