Under the dome

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, in blog form.

By Katherine Muhlenkamp and Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

You’ve probably read a lot lately about the University’s domed robo-library, but the odds are good that you haven't had a chance to tour it in person yet. We at UChiBLOGo present this virtual tour, based on an actual tour we took on a ridiculously cold May morning with David Borycz, special projects librarian.

Starting in the Joseph Regenstein Library, we walked across the glass bridge to Mansueto. We entered the Grand Reading Room and gazed up at the sunlit, elliptical dome, composed of 691 glass panels buoyed by steel supports. The long wooden tables feature task lighting, outlet power, laptop locking bars, and seating for 180 people. During our visit on an ordinary end-of-year day, every seat was full.

Descending five stories below the reading room floor, the automated shelving has the capacity to hold a whopping 3.5 million volumes. (By comparison, the entire Regenstein was designed to hold 5 million.) It takes only a few minutes to process a patron’s request for a book stored there, said Borycz, meaning you can request an item from a computer on the Reg's main floor, walk over the bridge to Mansueto, and find your material waiting for you at the circulation desk when you arrive.

Two units of the preservation department—digitization and conservation—have new space on the north side of Mansueto (binding remains in the Regenstein). The digitization space is equipped with an overhead scanner, flat-head scanners, and a digital photo lab. The conservation area boasts a fume hood (pictured above), which removes fumes from chemicals used in the restoration process.

Crossing back into the Reg, Borycz pointed out the intricately crafted, lead silhouette printers’ marks lining a hallway wall. The trademarks, Borycz explained, are part of the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive, a gift to the University made in 2005 and 2007. They represent influential printers, publishers, typographers, and designers from the 15th through the 20th centuries. This silhouette is the mark of Daniel Berkeley Updike, who established Merrymount Press in 1893. The piece depicts Thomas Morton’s maypole of Merrymount, with six young people dancing around a pole and a banner that carries the Updike family motto, Optimum Vix Satis ("The best is hardly enough").

Facing the printers’ marks is a new, glass-walled exhibition space for the Special Collections Research Center. Building the walkway between the Reg and Mansueto necessitated rehabbing Special Collections' space in the former building.

Inside the gallery sit unassuming wooden benches with a special provenance: they were made from the wood of a tree cut down to make way for Mansueto (A few of the luckier trees were moved elsewhere on campus).

For more images, see the University of Chicago Library’s Mansueto albums on Flickr. This video explains the automated retrieval system.

Join the discussion. Leave a comment on our Facebook page about the new Mansueto Library.

Photos by Benjamin Recchie, AB’03; fume hood photo courtesy Cheryl Rusnak; Special Collections photo courtesy Jason Smith/University of Chicago News Office.

June 28, 2011