There's a giant robot that lives inside IKB

Somewhere, deep within the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, there are giant robotic arms at work. While tables full of undergrads flip pages frantically and central-line caffeine, the arms are humming just on the other side of the circulation desk on the third floor — moving books, maps, records and more — going largely unnoticed by students.

Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) like the one in IKB use computer-controlled robotic cranes to place and retrieve library materials from storage locations. The IKB facility has four separate aisles and four hydraulic cranes that access items based on a GPS guiding system. Individual books have unique bar-codes that locate them in specific bins which sit inside a matrix in the warehouse aisles.

Similar systems are used around the world in warehouses and libraries to reduce storage space, ease the manual labour of staff and make inventory tracking more efficient.

Ernest Dick, the ASRS & Library Preservation and Archives (PARC) operations manager, likened UBC’s facility to a mini warehouse system, which frees up space inside the regular book stacks for study space and books that are more popular.

Built in 2005, the system marked a change in UBC’s model for storing materials that aren’t often taken out, which had previously involved the use of a number of different storage areas on campus.

Now, students and faculty can access these materials with ease, simply by requesting them online.

“When somebody goes on the catalogue and identifies an item that’s inside the university library collection, and they see that it resides in the ASR storage area, they can then proceed to make a request on that item that initiates the crane system in picking the item out of the storage facility,” said Dick.

An average day sees the ASRS circulating around 50 items in and out of 19,000 storage bins in its 17 by 50 metre storage facility.

The ASRS provides UBC Libraries with an additional capacity of 1.8 million items, of which approximately 1.6 million spots have been filled.

Want to see the system in action? Check it out through the IKB windows across from Buchanan on your next cross-campus trek.