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Special Collections to expand in new library

The much-discussed robotic retrieval system will allow most historic information to be housed on Main Campus, instead of off-site.

With Temple’s new library scheduled for completion by 2018, several components will need to be repurposed or restructured.

The introduction of a robotic storage and retrieval system dedicated to seeking selected print materials within high-density storage will reduce the physical space books and other materials occupy in the building.

The 210,000-square-foot library is expected to cost $190 million, including a $50 million state grant and $90 million in yearly grants which Temple had been saving.

Temple’s Urban Archives feature troves of Philadelphia history, ranging from the entirety of the MOVE Commission’s investigation of the 1985 bombing of the Powelton Village home, to the “morgue” of old newspaper clippings transported from the newsroom of the now-defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.

“Our contract with the future is that we sustain the availability of these materials,” said Joseph Lucia, dean of libraries.

“We expect that given the capacity of the new building, we will have more of the [Urban Archives] available through the high-density automated storage, bringing more materials closer to users,” he added.

Currently, several materials in the collections are accessible in the basement of Paley Library, including the Bulletin’s “morgue.”

The new library building will allow for an expansion of more special collections than just the Urban Archives, Lucia said. Currently most of the collections are housed off-site and can take a day or two to arrive on Main Campus.

The expanded capacity of the library using the automated retrieval should reduce wait times for materials stored on site to an estimated 15-30 minutes, Lucia added.

There are also plans for digitizing some of the special collections. Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services Steven Bell said digitization of materials would coincide with the library’s plans to implement a program that would allow for “serendipitous discovery,” referring to discovering knowledge while roaming the library. Critics of the new library have feared it would lack that component.

Materials like newsreels or microfilm, which come in nonstandard or oddly-shaped packaging and thus cannot work with the robotic system, will be made available through open stacks.

The school also has plans for a larger exhibition space within the new library.

“Academic resources of various types inform the construction of knowledge, and inform the interpretation of facts,”  Lucia said. “That’s really what I hope the building will amplify, our visibility, and enable us to participate in that kind of work.”

Bell said he expects between three and four times more students in the new library. The retrieval mechanism will provide “a very different paradigm for how a library will operate,” he said.

Jesse Staab, a 2007 alumnus with a degree in political science, said the Urban Archives in particular “lend themselves to community outreach.”

Staab said he used the archives during his time at Temple to satisfy both his own curiosity as a native Philadelphian about the history of his home, as well as to complete research for coursework.

Allan Barnes and Allen Habtamu can be reached at news@temple-news.com.

Joe Brandt contributed reporting.

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