The Documentalist

New Library Structure Blends Digital and Traditional Research

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on May 13, 2011

Today’s post isn’t about human rights per se, but it does focus on our interest on digital resources and highlights an interesting new approach to large research collections.  That said, the University of Chicago collections house a number of important works related to human rights, and the system described below may make them broadly accessible within and beyond the quads. –Sarah

Next week, the University of Chicago Libraries will open the new Joe and Rika Mansueto library.  As described in this Wired article, the very structure of the new library is designed to capitalize on the new realities of digital research in order to facilitate research in the libraries important physical collections.  As students and young faculty increasingly start the research process on-line rather than in the stacks, use of library space is fundamentally shifting.  The Mansueto library recognizes and harnesses this shift by creating an on-line research space that directs investigators to physical resources now stored in a 50 foot deep underground vault that will house 3.5 million volumes of work not otherwise available in a digital medium.  Once investigators determine that they need to consult a physical resource to complement what they’ve found digitally, they can digitally request that resources.  These digital requests can be made from anywhere in the world via the on-line catalog or email.  Once the request is received, the library’s automated system retrieves the item from the vault within five minutes and places it on hold for seven days.  At this point, of course, the researcher will have to physically collect the book from the library.  The major innovation of this system is that it allows people to digitally search key resources that are only available physically.  The hope is that appropriating digital research practices to direct work back to physical collections will maintain the relevance of these collections by increasing the range of resources that increasingly digitally-oriented students consult in their research.

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