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Colgate University, in upstate Hamilton, NY, sits in an area known for its small farms and lush, tree-covered hills. Driving into town on side roads, one can see scores of black-and-white cows munching on grass and silvery grain silos shining in the sun. Colgate's campus is similarly picturesque--its roads lined with massive oak trees that bring home the longevity and tradition of the university, which was founded in 1819.
The Case Library & Geyer Center for Information Technology, located in the middle of the campus, is a modern glass-and-stone structure. It's an attractive building, but it doesn't immediately bring Jetsons-like visions of the future to mind. It's hardly the place you'd expect to find a robot.
It's one of close to two dozen libraries worldwide that are using robotic technology to store their low-use materials onsite--and free up space to pursue new possibilities.
Space: the final frontier
Colgate's robot is an automated storage and retrieval system (ASP, S), manufactured by industrial equipment maker Dematic--the kind of robot you might find on an assembly line or in a factory.
While many large libraries use automatic sorting systems-for example, the New York Public Library unveiled an impressive one at its Long Island City, NY, facility last year--ASRSs fill a different niche. These systems provide a relatively cost-effective way for libraries to get the space-saving benefits of offsite storage, while keeping the materials onsite and accessible.
ASRSs are made up of a series of shelved metal bins, each densely filled with bar-coded items. A request is entered into the system by a patron or staffer via the library catalog, spurring into action a robotic "picker" that locates the correct drawer, picks it out, and transports it to a staffer who takes
out the requested item and scans the barcode, completing the transaction. (See "The Robot in Action" on p. 22 for a photographic tour through the process at the Colgate University library.)
Rise of the machines
It's a simple but powerful idea, and in libraries it's a relatively new one. Outside of libraries, it's old news. When HK Systems (bought by Dematic …