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What Is A Library In Today’s High Tech Age?

The James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University is a revolution in information storage.

At the Hunt, robots fetch the books. Two million volumes are folded into one ninth of the space they would have taken up in a conventional library because room for humans to walk through the aisles is unnecessary.

“I think in the last two decades we've realized how important space is, and in the last decade it has been the issue of collaborative space - space where people across disciplines can work together…in much more non-traditional ways” said Susan Nutter.

She is credited as the key visionary behind the James B. Hunt Library. Nutter works as the vice provost and director of libraries at N.C. State. Under her leadership, N.C. State’s libraries climbed from 101 in the nation to 27, according to the Association of Research Libraries.

Librarians, architects and educators everywhere are taking notice of the new state-of-the-art space. So much so that Hunt Library has had to create a new position - the visitor experience librarian - to handle the massive number of guests.

Clymer Cease, the managing principal at the architecture firm Pearce, Brinkley, Cease, and Lee, said that in many university libraries, most of the books don't get checked out more often than once every few decades.

“By putting the books in the vault, we’re storing them in a dry, very quiet secure place, so that once every 30 years when somebody wants to look at that book, it’s there and it’s in great shape,” he said.

Barbara Moran, the Louis Round Wilson Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science, said that technology has completely changed libraries and the ways we use them.

“Going up to the stacks and looking at books and serendipitously finding new material is a lot of fun," she said. "But it’s so very convenient to look it up in an online catalogue and sometimes even have the librarian to fetch the book for you.”

Now, at N.C. State’s Hunt Library, students can cut out the middleman and just have a robot do the job for them.

Library experience montage.mp3
NC State students react to Hunt Library. Audio collected by Christina Blyde.

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Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
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