- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi University for Women has a book robot.

The Automatic Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) is at the university’s John C. Fant Memorial Library where it will store roughly 150,000 books, any of which it can retrieve for readers on-demand. It’s one of only a handful of “book robots” at universities in the country. MUW is the first university in Mississippi to have one.

“It’s allowing us to be a different kind of library than we would be if we just had a traditional kind of library with a traditional amount of space,” said Amanda Powers, dean of library sciences at MUW.

The robot resembles a two-story tall steel rack containing shelves of two-foot long bins just tall enough for the average book. The entire system is connected to a database, which tracks the books by their bins. When a student requests a certain book through the database, an automated retrieval system goes to the proper shelf, grabs the bin containing the book and brings it to the circulation desk.

Though students and faculty still won’t be able to use the ASRS for another couple of months, Powers said it’s already attracting attention on campus.

“There’s a lot of buzz on campus about the robot,” she said. “I mean, MUW has a robot!”

Powers and library systems administrator Nicholas Jones have been overseeing the assembly of the robot, pieces of which have been arriving over several months. Newly graduated from Mississippi State University, Jones has studied robotics and information systems, and is excited to be part of the project.

“It matches up with my background of robotics and engineering,” Jones said. “And it’s just great to come into a project and be part of the first to pioneer something like this in Mississippi.”

Though the addition of the ASRS makes Fant a “high-tech” library - something the university prides and which Jones and Powers believe will attract new students - its major benefit is to expand the library.

“One of the things a system like this gives you is compact storage for books, so you’re able to have a much bigger library than you would if you just spread out everywhere,” Powers said. “…We’d like to use our space for students to be able to do things like study with each other and not just be some book warehouse.”

The robot, designed by tech company Murata Machinery, is the latest addition to the library, which has been under renovation for more than three years. The robot makes up about $1.5 million of the $18 million renovation.

As the last phases of renovation are underway this coming semester, the ASRS will contain more than 225,000 books - everything but reference books. Once the renovations are complete, which is expected this summer, it will hold about 150,000 books, journals and manuscript collections. Eventually, Powers hopes it will hold its maximum capacity of 300,000 books.

About 100,000 books will still be on the library floor for students to browse, Powers said. But the robot allows books the entire library to be bigger, Powers said - not just in terms of how many books the library can hold, but how much space library goers can use.

“I think it’s neat that it’s going to give the library an opportunity to bring students in for (many) purposes not all just book reasons and research reasons,” Jones said. “…It’s going to be a new center of the university where people can come and gather and (the ASRS) is just one piece that makes it a great place and user-friendly.”

By the time renovations are completed, Powers said, there will be a cafe, a courtyard, conference rooms, and most importantly, plenty of space for students, alumni and members of the community to gather.

“We’re really hoping to bring the community in,” Powers said. “I really believe this will be the heart of campus.”

___

Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com


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