Robotic Library : Information: CSUN students and staff can request selections through computers and have them delivered automatically.

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It lurks in the bowels of the campus library, along dimly lit aisles--an incredible hulk that prowls implacably for unsuspecting tomes, then strikes and delivers up its prey.

It’s Leviathan II, and it won’t be stopped until it does the bidding of its masters, any one of whom can activate it with the push of a button.

Leviathan is the university’s new $2-million, state-of-the-art library system that officials say is the first in the world to use robots to retrieve and replace books. Students and staff request selections through the library’s computers and have them delivered automatically.


“This is an unusual and advanced storage system--probably one of the most advanced in the world,” said Douglas A. Davis, acting dean of the university library.

The system, up and running since school began in August, was more than a year in the making. Today, CSUN will hold a formal dedication for Leviathan, known officially as the Automated Storage and Retrieval System in the university’s million-volume Delmar T. Oviatt Library.

Leviathan, named after the biblical whale that “retrieved” Jonah from death by drowning, is patterned after modified forklift systems used in grocery and electronics warehouses around the country. University officials, faced with the impending reality of too many books and too little space, turned to Leviathan as the most economical and efficient method of storing books when they

drew up designs for an $18.5-million library expansion project.

“It’s much less expensive than a regular open stack,” since it saves millions of dollars in library construction costs, Davis said. “And it gives better service than any open stack system we’ve seen.”

The library’s most popular volumes remain on open self-service shelves. The Leviathan system is designed to hold up to 1.2 million books that seldom circulate, if at all, Davis said.

Currently, Leviathan contains more than 450,000 volumes, none of them checked out within the past three years. Davis estimates that the entire system will be filled in a dozen years or so, saving the library more than 100,000 square feet of space.


With six forklifts that rove over thousands of bins of books, Leviathan automatically pinpoints the correct drawer and delivers it to a waiting library staff member whenever a student requests a stored volume over the computerized card-catalog system. Inside the bins, which are stacked 34 high and 33 deep along six aisles, books are kept in random order, which may horrify a human librarian but does not faze Leviathan.

“Most of the books are put in random order because . . . the computer just knows where they are by their bar codes,” Davis said. Leviathan even informs the staff member in what section of the bin he or she should look.

Library workers then load the requested volumes into a small cart that wobbles along a track up to the circulation desk.

The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Curious students can watch it unfold through viewing glasses along one library wall.

“We’ve got a lot of nose prints on the glass, so we know people are watching,” Davis said.

Library supervisor Joe Parham, who used to spend tedious hours over the last 16 years reshelving books or delegating the responsibility to others, said Leviathan has not only improved efficiency but also worker motivation.

“I got burned out supervising shelving books all the time. The students really didn’t like it” either, he said of his student staff. “But now they’re really motivated . . . Everyone who’s in here likes being in here.”


But with only one-third of the bins full, and the rest to be gradually filled over a number of years, have any administrators, faculty members or students lobbied for temporary storage of other, more personal items, such as clothes, televisions or furniture?

Not yet, said Davis with a smile. “But we would resist such efforts if they did.”