A book retrieval robot is part of the new Miller Nichols Library (MNL) expansion project. The new robotic system has caused quite a buzz on campus. However, with 80 percent of UMKC’s library to be taken off the shelves, there have been mixed feelings.
“Currently less than ¼ of the collection has been loaded and those items are journals, microfiche, and government documents which typically are not materials folks would browse anyway. Though we are currently loading items at a steady pace, we likely will not have 80 percent loaded for a year or more from now. Even when everything is loaded, there will still be over 150 thousand items on open shelving and available for browsing. By packing away items like journals that typically aren’t browsed along with older and less-frequently used items into Roobot, those items remaining will actually provide a more user-friendly experience for those who like to browse the shelves because the items remaining will be the newest and/or those most frequently checked out.” Mark Mattison of University Libraries said.
The robotic library system was created by HK Systems.
To use the robotic system you access the Merlin directory at MNL or at the UMKC libraries website, then search and request a book from either the access desk or from a computer on or off campus.
Then, if the book is available, the robot delivers it to the pick-up bin where a library staffer or student assistant retrieves and delivers the materials to the access desk.
While the concept may be easy, the system does a lot behind the scenes. The system consists of two aisles of bins and multiple shelving units that hold the books. The shelves reach from the ground level all the way up to the third floor. Three hundred thousand texts have already been loaded into the system. There are still a lot more books to go.
With the majority of books off the shelves, there are mixed feelings about the new robotic system. Bonnie Postlethwaite, Associate Dean of Libraries at UMKC, welcomes the new addition and believes that it will bring positive changes to the campus.
“The staff is excited and enjoy showing the new robot off,” Postlethwaite said.
Postlethwaite warns that browsing materials will be limited with the majority of library materials in the new system, but said that they are working toward enhancing online descriptors with table of contents and chapter hyperlinks. She also noted that for easy access the most used texts will remain on the old library shelves.
She explained how over the past years, as the library collection and student population has grown; the old library system limited space for the library users. “We’ll be able to re-open the space for the student population,” Postlethwaite said.
This transformation will include moveable furniture, wireless internet, and more contemporary technology.
Staff and student assistants are enthusiastic about the new system, but haven’t seen any drastic changes in their work responsibilities.
Breona Henderson, a junior studying psychology and MNL Student Assistant has not noticed many changes in her workload, other than loading thousands of books into the new unit.
Henderson said that the staff and student assistants have been stocking books into the new system for the past month and will continue to work on this project until mid October, but she speculates that her job will not change much after the project’s completion.
Since the robot addition, Henderson still has to go retrieve books for library users just like before.
“[The system] is more beneficial for the patron,” Henderson said. She has not heard any complaints about the changes from the users and seems indifferent about the system.
Intrigue seems to describe the overall feelings the student body has about the robot; however, some students have voiced concern about the new system.
Junior Amy Scassellati enjoys reading in her free time and speculates about the browsing materials available at the library.
“Robots would be helpful if I was looking for a specific book, but I like being able to browse a selection of books as well,” Scassellati said. “I like to see what my options are.”
The enhanced catalog descriptors should help others like Scassellati, but many still feel that the new system does limit browsing.
The new addition to the library has brought excitement, enthusiasm and intrigue to campus. Although some users feel limited by the new robot, the future of the Miller Nichols Library seems promising.
The robot should bring a lot of positive changes to the library, just as Postlethwaite had earlier described. Thanks to the robot, the campus can look forward to a more user-friendly library that caters to the needs of the student body.
To learn more about the robotic retrieval system at Miller Nichols Library, visit to http://library.umkc.edu