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LOGAN - When the construction dust settles at Utah State University this fall and some 1.5 million books and documents are moved across campus, high-tech robotic cranes will begin stalking the shelves on behalf of patrons in the new Merrill-Cazier Library.

A $3 million automated storage and retrieval system will be the first of its kind in a Utah library, according to USU spokesman John DeVilbiss.

USU's elaborate system, known by the letters ASRS, will have all the latest bells and whistles. Patrons can watch it in action through numerous viewing windows on the third and fourth floors, but the system is much more than an impressive bauble, according to Linda Wolcott, vice provost for libraries and instructional support.

"It is a necessity," she said. “The system is critical to housing the current collection and allowing for future growth of the library collections.”

A 200,000-square-foot addition to the existing Cazier Science and Technology Library is under construction to replace the 74-year-old Merrill Library. Yet, the combined 304,000-square-foot facility will not result in any additional space - once the Merrill Library is demolished, Wolcott said.

With the automated-retrieval system, the new northern Utah library will be able to more efficiently use space and cover anticipated growth of the collection over the next 25 to 30 years, she said.

Frequently used books will still be housed on the library's open shelves. Bound journals and microforms, as well as lesser-used items in the circulating book collection, will be stored on shelving units in a five-story rack structure with four aisles.

A robotic crane will operate in each aisle. The crane will deliver the appropriate shelving unit to a station in the circulation or serials work areas. A staff member will pick the requested item from the shelving unit and bring it to the respective service area for delivery to the patron.

“This automated system is accurate, fast, and cost-effective; it allows for increased storage at a lower cost per book than traditional library storage,” according to Wolcott.

At the click of a button on the Internet - from within the library itself, a campus office or dorm room - the crane will deliver an entire shelving unit, containing about 250 items, within one to two minutes.

“You will request your item online and, in most instances, the item will be waiting for you at the service desk by the time you get there,” Wolcott said.

The new Marriott Library planned for the University of Utah campus and funded in the 2005 legislation session will also have an automated storage and retrieval system, according to Amanda Covington, communications director for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Dale Bills, spokesman for the LDS Church, said a new five-story Church History Library, planned to open in downtown Salt Lake City in 2007, will feature a similar system.