Race against the machine

One lowly intern challenges the Mansueto.

By Mitchell Kohles, '12

By now you’ve read enough about the specs on the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (especially if you follow UChiBLOGo). So how about we change gears a bit and take Dad’s new Camaro out for a spin?

Mansueto’s automated storage and retrieval system boasts a 15-minute-or-less retrieval time. But how fast is that compared to the old-fashioned “Ask a Librarian” option, or even pulling up the title on the Web? To put the cranes to the test, I’m going to race Mansueto to a book.

So let’s get to it. The rules:

  1. With the help of a librarian, I'll decide on a book that is both within Mansueto’s underbelly and tucked away in the Reg’s stacks.
  2. A third and theoretically impartial party will act as Mansueto’s proxy patron, submitting a request online and picking up the book at the counter.
  3. I can’t use a computer or any mechanical device, nor can I be aided by anyone accessing such device—I can “Ask a Librarian,” but he or she can’t ask a database.
  4. We line up at the turnstile. First one back through the metal detectors with the book in hand wins.

On the line: the relative value of Mansueto’s $81 million price tag and my $200,000 education. And just so we're clear: this isn’t some hackneyed plot to defend the “I-love-wandering-through-the-stacks” sentimentality. We’re talking pure, streamlined efficiency here. Let Man vs. Mansueto begin.


The results:

Mansueto retrieved the book at 9:13:39.
Intern threw in the towel at 13:09:31.

Well, it was a crushing defeat, no question about it. It looks like the odds were right: the machine is better than the man. But I for one won't welcome our biblo-technological overlords just yet. In a post-race talk, Mansueto and I discussed the possibility of a rematch:

Intern: Well, I guess all that money was worth it, huh ManSweat?
Mansueto: I am worth precisely every penny, yes.
Intern: Well don’t get too cocky over there in that transparent turtle shell of yours. I’ll be back.
Mansueto: Come back as often as you like, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9:45 p.m. I can hold more than 3.5 million volumes.
Intern: No, Reg Egg, I mean for another race. I realized I’ve got an edge on you after all. I’m gonna learn my way around the stacks, brush up on my Dewey decimals, and come back better, stronger, and faster than before. You’re just a machine—you won’t learn anything.
Mansueto: I have learned that you are the inferior entity.
Intern: ...
Mansueto: Burn.

August 8, 2011