UMKC Roos have new ’bots to fetch books

What you might not expect to find on the main floor of the Miller Nichols Library is a sushi bar.

But there it is, a part of the $70 million renovation going on at the University of Missouri-Kansas City building.

And what you might expect to find there — books — won’t be visible.

By the time the entire renovation is completed, only about 200,000 volumes and other materials will remain on open shelves.

So where are all the books?

They are stored away, stacked four stories high in a newly constructed corner of the library with two giant robotic arms to retrieve them.

UMKC has one of only 17 libraries in North America with such a system.

These days, Miller Nichols’ second floor, the first to be renovated so far, looks more like the lobby area of a modern urban advertising agency than a college library.

“We want the library to be the students’ academic home,” said Sharon Bostick, dean of libraries on the campus. “A lot of them spend hours and hours in here. We want them to be comfortable, to want to be here.”

Bostick said she likes walking into the main library, seeing students at the café or sprawled snoozing on couches on one end of the floor while on the other, people are engaged in a lecture, film or music presentation.

At the same time, inside glass-enclosed study rooms along the edges of the floor, groups of students use electronic smart boards and computers to work on a class project.

UMKC opened the newly renovated space with the start of classes this fall. The next move is renovation of the third and fourth floors, and a new addition that will stretch northwest toward the Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Bostick said the library went semi-bookless to make room for the students and its growing collection. It had amassed so many books the students were crowded out of the space by the stacks, she said.

“We had to address that. We are considered a large library but not huge,” Bostick said.

The biggest innovation is that mechanical retrieving system named Roobot by Roos-cheering students. Roobot is actually two cranelike machines that move back and forth, and up and down, along a shelving structure filled with bins packed with books, explained Mark Mattison, library advancement officer.