Introduction to the Automated Storage

Emiko SUNAGA (Project Research Fellow)

Are you acquainted with the Automated Storage?
The General Library of UTokyo is equipped with a huge underground Automated Storage capable of storing about 3 million books. Here is a report by the U-PARL staff who went on an excursion to the Automated Storage, which is usually closed to access.

The entrance to the Automated Storage is located behind the Library Plaza just below the library’s front fountain. Walk through the special door, go down the stairs… 

Library Plaza located under the fountain

Automated Storage excursion passage









and there it is—a swathe of huge storage racks just beyond the glass! The participants could not contain their excitement over the grandiose view. 

Warehouse-like racks fully packed with containers

Crane transports a container












Books are kept in 70-cm-wide coverless cases called “storage containers” that are neatly lined up on the 10-m-high racks. Stacker cranes for transporting books are installed in the aisles between the racks. As the temperature and humidity inside the Automated Storage is strictly controlled, no people are allowed inside. 

When retrieving a book, one of the cranes slides into position, picks up and transports the whole container containing the target book. The container delivered through a chain of several transporting mechanisms, such as a crane, conveyor, and vertical carrier, arrives at the Pick up/Return Station located at the Service Counter on the first floor of the General Library. After the librarian confirms the title and takes out the book, the container is taken back to the underground storage. 

Container arrives to the Pick up/Return Station

The target book is taken from the container by the library staff









Books are returned from the same station. When a book is borrowed creating a space in the container, a returned book is put in that space and the container is sent back to the storage. Each time a book is taken out or put into a container, the book’s barcode is linked to the container’s data. 

Because the Automated Storage is fully controlled and operated by machines, there is no need to arrange books according to the classification, unlike the open stack shelves. Containers are filled in turn starting from the closest one, irrelevant to the genre. For example, two volumes of the same series will be stored each one in a separate container and their storage locations will change each time they are used (such storage method is called “free location”). 

Now let’s look into how users can borrow books kept in the Automated Storage. When the OPAC search indicates the location as “Gen.Auto Storage”, this means that the book is kept in the Automated Storage. Pressing the yellow “Request” button on the search PC in the General Library immediately initiates the book retrieval operation. Print out the receipt with the request number (“Request List”). 

Requesting a book using an OPAC terminal in front of the Service Counter

Retrieval operation status is displayed on the monitor in real time









The retrieval status is displayed on the monitor in front of the Service Counter. It depends on how busy the system is, but when there are not so many requests, the retrieval operation is completed in about five minutes. When the monitor displays “Ready”, receive the book at the counter and complete the checking out procedure. The Automated Storage is also available for use by non-members of UTokyo. 

As the Automated Storage continues to operate even during the coronavirus crisis, please feel free to actively use books kept there as well. 

You can also take a peek at the container transporting process in the Automated Storage from outside, at the front of the General Library of UTokyo

Original Japanese article posted in July 9, 2021
Translated in November 4, 2021