This weekend I visited the Art Institute of Chicago, and along with revisiting several of my favorite pieces (such as The Praying Jew and the Giacometti sculptures) I took a look at several Futurist paintings. I am reading a book called Mechanization Takes Command, mentioned in my first post, which details the evolution of innumerable everyday objects, as well as the far-reaching effects mechanization imposed on our day to day lives. Futurism was a visceral response to studies of motion in the early 1900s, and the images many of those artists created are powerful distillations of turn-of-the-century philosophies about labour management, human potential and scientific advances.
It’s hard to understand today the far-reaching revolution of motion studies, and how they in turn guided “actualities” by the Lumiere Brothers at the dawn of cinema. Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 is such an influential work because it represented scientific explorations in such a provocative and public way, but really all he did was copy the work of Eadweard Muybridge. As the popular saying goes, it’s better to do something second than it is to do it first.
Mechanization is so pervasive that the idea of a Robotic Librarian is almost banal. Along with jet packs, flying cars and colonies on Mars the idea almost seems quaint in a retro-futurist sort of way. In reality, though, the idea is gaining in influence, and several of us after graduation day may need to make the acquaintance of a Robotic Librarian sooner rather than later. So here are a few posts about automated systems that may be coming to a library near you.
First here is a BBC article about bookish robots developed at the University Jaume I in Spain. Next up is the Automatic Control Laboratory website which offers robotic storage and access for library materials, citing a study conducted at Chicago State University as evidence of their value. It also has a short video showing how these robots work. As a corollary, here is a link to the Chicago State University page showing the benefits of their new robotic friends. This CSU project has even made its way onto an “exemplary” wikia article about the future of robotics, which highlights numerous innovations that will change the way we live. This will impact our very chemistry as well, and Pfizer employs several robotic librarians in their warehouse of millions of “druglike chemicals.” (Mention of the library and the robot messenger is on page 3 of the article) Not everyone is happy about these systems, however, as seen in this letter to USU about a proposed tuition hike, part of which will be used to fund a “proposed multi-million dollar library.”
There’s an unwieldy amount of material about robotic librarians out there with a minimum of searching, and numerous articles available to Dominican University students through our databases. In many ways, what Google and other search tools are doing can be seen as the efforts of Robotic Librarians, if one considers the automated aggregating they perform on the scale of billions of units of data per second. What does all of this mean for us flesh and blood librarians toiling away in the infosphere? I just don’t know, but it’s thrilling to have the opportunity to try and find out.