Full-Metal Dust Jackets and Wi-Fi in Uni's Space-Age Library - Jen Rosenberg, Education, SMH, 2 Aug 2011

While many university libraries are tossing out books that haven't been borrowed for a while, Macquarie University has unveiled a completely new library with a revolutionary storage and retrieval system, and a new design adapted to the demands of modern students.

The automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) is a state-of-the art technique using computerised cranes to retrieve books from a massive underground warehouse in minutes, saving valuable space and time.

It is the showpiece of the library, a modern and sustainable piece of architecture, with free wi-fi throughout and areas that mix traditional quiet spaces, rooms for disabled students and pods for collaborative work.

Books that are not on the open shelves are stashed in rows of underground metal bins, with a computer keeping track of their location and cranes able to access them instantaneously once a request is received from the online catalogue.

Moving the vast collection to a new site with a more efficient storage system has increased the library's storage capacity, meaning a book's retention would not depend on how much dust it had accumulated - the test Sydney University had applied in deciding which publications would be culled from its collection - the university librarian Maxine Brodie said.

With more e-books now than hard copies, the library has doubled its collection. ''We have the ability to expand for 40 years,'' she said.

The library has been a labour of love for Ms Brodie. She has been involved in five years of planning and development of the project, which cost $97 million - most of it funded by the university.

The architects took inspiration from the campus's gum trees. The exterior resembles striped bark and the building's curves evoke the shape of gum leaves.

Curious students poured into the new library yesterday on the first day of second semester. Nomiky Panayiotakis, a second-year law student, said the extra space and the new retrieval system were appealing and she was likely to spend more time using the library for study.

She loves the open design. ''The natural light is beautiful. It's brilliant; it's even got an open area with plants and fake primates.'' The fake primate is a gorilla, left as a joke by builders, that sits in splendour in a bamboo-filled courtyard.

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