v27 #2 The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago

by | Jun 5, 2015 | 0 comments

by Andrea Twiss-Brooks  (University of Chicago Library)  <[email protected]>

Beginning more than a decade ago, the University of Chicago Library began a planning process to address the need for additional shelving space for collections.  Planning included involvement by library staff, University faculty and administration, and other stakeholders and culminated in the construction of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, a storage library, which was dedicated on October 18, 2011.1  With the opening of this facility, the University demonstrated a commitment to keep the print collections on campus for the next few decades.  Peer institutions have chosen to move significant volumes of materials to off-site storage facilities when faced with capacity issues; local opinion held that this solution would impede scholarly research.  While faculty at the University value the availability of large full-text databases like HathiTrust, online journal subscriptions, and commercial eBook offerings, in at least some disciplines these resources are not viewed as replacements to on-site print collections.  This is what the previous Library Director, Judith Nadler wrote:

“Mass digitization leads users to collections; it does not take their place.  As companies such as Google and libraries around the world digitize a growing proportion of books and make them searchable online, such search results will increasingly point the way to our rich print collection, fueling scholarly demand for access to these materials.”2

The new Mansueto Library uses state-of-the-art robotic storage and retrieval technology to house up to 3.5 million volumes (or the equivalent in archival boxes or other formats) of material in high-density storage space, providing scholars with delivery turnaround times of 15 minutes.  The selection of materials shelved in the Mansueto Library is focused on those whose removal from the browsable shelving in the University of Chicago’s five campus libraries will have the most limited or controllable effects on research and teaching.   The Library also wanted selections which could be easily explained to library users, as well as selections that provided a large volume of material which could be identified and processed in a timely fashion.  During the first year of operation several hundred thousand volumes were transferred from various campus libraries.  A number of selection options were considered:   selecting clusters of subject-related materials in areas of low research/teaching interest, selecting duplicates and closely related editions, selecting materials by format or type which do not have close subject classification (e.g., dissertations, microforms, etc.), transferring materials that were already shelved in non-browsable locations, and transferring bound serial volumes from library stacks.  After much discussion and consultation with faculty advisors, the Library chose to focus on the transfer of bound serials volumes, with highest priority being those available as online full-text equivalents or well indexed in online databases.  In addition, extremely large oversized volumes (aka “elephant folios”) and archival materials, which also are of limited value for browsing, are located on special racks in the facility.  As of June 30, 2014 the Mansueto Library contained nearly 1.2 million items.

In addition to providing greatly expanded shelving capacity, the construction of the Mansueto Library provided space for library services and for scholars and students.  A state of the art conservation laboratory and space for the Library’s digital preservation program staff and equipment were included in Mansueto, and, while not directly related to its function as a storage library, a grand reading room “under the dome” provides a unique environment for consulting materials from the collection or for other scholarly work or study and has become a popular destination for students on campus.


  1. http://mansueto.lib.uchicago.edu/
  2. The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library: Director’s Message http://mansueto.lib.uchicago.edu/director.html (accessed Feb. 19, 2015).

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