Louisville, Kentucky

Library Robotic Retrieval System vs. Spacesaver High-Bay Library Shelving

This university library had a Robotic Retrieval System, but it’s switching to Spacesaver high-bay shelving. Here’s why.
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Keeping Library Materials Accessible

Like many large campus libraries, this library has evolved over the years. It was built in 1981, and the building’s interior became overcrowded. To give patrons rapid access to around 500,000 volumes, decision-makers opted to build an addition and install a Robotic Retrieval System, or RRS, in a large “vault” near the library’s circulation desk.

The planning and design team thought the library’s robotic retrieval system would save money on labor in the long run. The only problem? It was obsolete soon after it was installed.

research and study room at library off-site archives
tall heavy duty shelving system in off-site warehouse

An Obsolete & Expensive Library Robotic Retrieval System (RRS)

The robotic system’s software soon needed an upgrade. The software upgrade was expensive, but the system was difficult to use without it. The university invested in the software, only to be informed about ten years later that the software was obsolete again, and the robotic hardware would no longer be supported, either.

The system is still in place today, but it’s difficult to use. “It was in the upper high five figures to do that first upgrade,” said a librarian. “Now the software is obsolete again, and our robots are also obsolete. So we’re in desperate need of an upgrade, but that would be close to a quarter of a million dollars.”

high-bay powered shelving system in off-site university warehouse
The robotic retrieval system on the left is now obsolete, so the university is incrementally replacing it with the XTend High-Bay Shelving shown at right.

Switching to Spacesaver High-Bay Shelving

Decision-makers decided to switch strategies and invest in a proven long-term solution. In 2018 they purchased and installed a Spacesaver XTend® Mobile High-Bay Storage System in the vault near the robotic system.

The building was already constructed and in use, so the installation process called for advance planning and complex crane work. The large frames and shelving had to be passed through narrow windows.

Even though the installation process was complex, it went smoothly and more quickly than expected. “The process was shockingly short,” said a librarian. “They got most of it done over the holiday break.”

high-bay powered shelving system
"We’re using the Spacesaver system to clear space on the library’s upper levels for more modern scholarship. The shelving is adjustable, so if we ever need to make more of a certain space available, we can."

- University Librarians

Long-term Reliability for Large Libraries

At 100 feet long and 38 feet tall, the Spacesaver shelving system looks similar to the robotic system, but access to it doesn’t depend on robotic hardware and software. Trained staff can simply use a lift to retrieve requested materials on demand.

Now library staff can easily store and retrieve stored materials. Materials that are more than around 20 years old are stored on the Spacesaver system, along with newer items that are also available digitally, like the football team’s practice tapes. New books, periodicals, and other materials are placed on shelving in public areas around the library.