Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Jetsons go to the Library

I've got some pretty smart and talented kids. One's studying Theater and Political Science, another is studying Aerospace Engineering, my third is a senior, so he's applying to some pretty high-octane schools to study biology on a pre-med track, while my youngest is only a sophomore in high school and isn't too concerned with what he'll study, though he's talked about becoming a writer (like his dear old dad – well, at least a part-time writer).

Needless to say, I've visited a few college campuses. Between my own visits when I was young and those of my kids, I've visited BYU, Humboldt State University, University ofCalifornia-Riverside, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Case WesternReserve, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Iowa StateUniversity, and University of Chicago, as well as a number of other small schools and reservations against Stanford and/or Princeton, should my son be accepted to one or both of these schools.

Each of these fine institutions has a large library. I think UW-Madison's is the largest, in terms of holdings, though BYU's and Northwestern's are pretty formidable. But the coolest library, by far, is one of those at the University of Chicago.

And there aren't even any books “on the floor”.

Let me explain. Like any other major University, University of Chicago has several libraries. Their flagship library is The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. On the outside, it is merely a strange looking building, something quite out of character with the rest of the campus (where most of the buildings are modeled after or direct replicas of the buildings of OxfordUniversity - think Hogwarts in Chicago). It's reminiscent of a futuristic Disney building or something from a science fiction movie:

Our tour guide called it her “personal snowglobe”. In the winter, she would stand in the middle of it and watch the snow falling onto it with an relatively unobstructed view of the snow storms that often hit Chicago.

Here's the strange part, though. Take a look at the interior and tell me what is missing?

Duh! No books! What the heck?

Well, things get even more science fictiony. You see those pillars rising up from the floor? Each of those is a kiosk with a terminal on it. When you key in the book you're looking for, an underground robot finds and retrieves your book or books out of the 3.5 million slots and sends it up the chute into a tray by the terminal.

It's The Jetsons come to life!

Is this the future of libraries? Are we seeing the seeds of a Terminator of librarians?

I doubt it. Libraries and librarians will adapt in new, creative ways that us civilians have never conceived.

 Long live our fortresses of books and those who keep watch from the towers! Librarians rule!

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