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UTS library goes underground with robotics

University to install an underground storage and retrieval system for its library collection

When implementing RFID, Burns says there were some challenges in finding a vendor with the appropriate experience in scaling the technology for an academic library and working within the tight timeframes of a university.

“There’s been a real challenge on the RFID front despite there being a lot of talk about where RFID might be useful. There’s not a great deal of deep experience in Australia with how we use it, particularly on this scale. So that was one of the big challenges of the project,” Burns says.

“The windows you have to do things with the IT projects for universities tend to be pretty small because you want to make any major changes while the students are on vacation and you absolutely need everything up and running before the start of semester.

"It’s not easy to go out and educate an entire student population [on the new system] so things need to be very intuitive and easy to use. That is often a very big challenge. Projects can’t slip because you would have to [wait] for an entire semester and you don’t want to introduce a major change in the middle of semester.”

In addition to the ASRS, the university is planning to move beyond the traditional library catalogue and build smart systems to offer more innovative ways of searching and discovering items online, such as crowd curated suggestions and recommendations. This is to help facilitate more use of the library’s collection.

Booth says the problem with a catalogue, which is essentially an automated card index, is that it doesn’t allow for much discovery; it can limit users’ ability to find items they don’t know about.

“With the catalogue, we are stuck with taxonomies that go back to the Dewey decimal system and the Library of Congress and subject headings that aren’t always meaningful to users or library users. So we are hoping to offer something around that but not just by text, by visual means, by recommendations, by social means,” Booth says.

“It’s a totally different process. We’re currently working on proper discovery systems ... not catalogue search systems, but real discovery systems that allow students to find books by the way people imagine things, the way people look for things in forms other than text-based searching.”

Reflecting on how the project has developed so far, Burns says building a relationship between IT and the library has played an important part in ensuring the project runs smoothly. She says the two teams have developed a stronger partnership due to working on the project together and have gained a better understanding of how they both operate.

“One of the really nice things about this project is that is really shows how well you can partner, so working with experts within the university faculties in different areas. I think IT teams often talk about wanting to partner with the business but this has been a really nice example of making that a reality, so bringing in expertise across the two teams to make the project [a success].”

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