Inside the robot

From browsing special collections to reserving books online, once completely renovated, John Clayton Fant Memorial Library, will truly be a state of the art facility. It will become the heart of campus if Amanda Clay Powers, dean of library services and professor, has her way.

Outside the RobotPowers said, “It’s going to be for everybody, and it’s going to be so inviting and open. It’s going to feel like a different place.”

The library is undergoing a major facelift since it was first built in 1969. What will make the renovated multi-purpose space so different?

First, it will house the university’s robot—an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS)—the first in the state and in the region.

The soon-to-be-named robot enables the current space to be expanded with a smaller footprint thanks to additional dense storage. The two-story ASRS contains 2,188 bins with each bin being able to store 70-130 books, depending on the size of each book, resulting in the storage of about 300,000 items.

When requests from students and faculty are entered into the system, the ASRS contains the exact location of each bin and the item stored inside of it. The robotic crane moves to the appropriate column where the requested item is stored, pulls the bin out of the platform, moves it to the end of the aisle, prints a receipt, where a library employee will remove it to be picked up by the patron.


“It turns us into a different kind of library,” Powers said. “Libraries have to be nimble and flexible just like the people we serve.”

The renovation project is in the third and final phase with work concentrated in the new addition and the second floor. Nicholas Jones, library systems administrator, has been overseeing the arduous task of getting all the books scanned into the ASRS and the locations changed in the online catalog.

“I’ve been ensuring the book ingestion goes correctly and have been doing some training,” Jones stated, noting that about 180,000 books had been scanned with a total of about 300,000 books, bound journals, microfilm, and multi-media to be ingested this spring.

“Everything has to go into the system to make room for construction,” he added, explaining that while stored in the ASRS, materials remain safe, clean and in a climate-controlled environment.

Comfortable Study AreaThere are also cozy hangouts around the fireplaces downstairs and upstairs.

A two-story full-service café is also expected to draw quite a bit of attention. The café, which will serve Starbucks products, will seat roughly 100 individuals, including barstools overlooking campus, as well as traditional café and patio seating.

The W’s archives will be housed on the second level. Surrounded by glass, the space will feature an expanding special collections focusing on southern and Mississippi women’s history. The reading room will be a showcase for the library’s first editions and rare books, while having ample space for researchers. There will also be a dedicated space for the Kossen Center for Teaching and Learning, which will support faculty and innovative teaching approaches.

With students in mind, especially commuters, there will be 13 rooms for study groups of three or more throughout the building. The study rooms will be accessible through online reservations starting in the fall, Powers added. Next to the robot, there is a 20-person conference room that will be web-enabled and perfect for webinars and distance meetings. There will be two smaller seminar rooms perfect for groups of eight to 10 people.

“I definitely want to work with student groups on campus, and I want to make sure our spaces are sustainable,” she said. Construction is expected to be completed in June 2017 with a grand opening in fall 2017.

Nora Miller, senior vice president for administration and chief financial officer, said Burris/Wagnon Architects, P.A. out of Jackson has been the project professional. This last phase, the ASRS portion of Phase III, is with Amason construction out of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Powers said, “It’s a restructuring of this library conceptually, but it still feels like a library, which we hope will become the center of campus.”

Miller added, “This renovation and expansion allows us to use the library in so many new ways and will provide our faculty and staff with a 21st century information hub.”

“The great thing about this is the positive way that the library faculty and staff have adapted to every twist and turn of the project, and the transformation that has already taken place in the look and feel of the library. It has such an inviting atmosphere,” she said.

Read More: Dean Amanda Clay Powers shares how to preserve the traditional library experience in a 21st Century library.