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The library of the future – right now

The new James B. Hunt Jr. Library provides engineering students with some of the world's most sophisticated education and research technology.

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Allison Dubrouillet's new study space just might be the world's most advanced library.

The sophomore in electrical engineering is already carving out her favorite nooks at the new James B. Hunt Jr. Library, which opened in January on NC State's Centennial Campus. The 220,000-square-foot structure has received global attention for its state-of-the-art technologies and futuristic feel, attributes that should boost the College's profile and its efforts to recruit and retain top faculty and students.

The library contains NC State's engineering collections and is just a short walk from the new engineering buildings on Centennial. The building boasts nearly 100 study-group rooms and technology spaces featuring everything from 3D printers to giant high-definition video displays.

“Not only is the library close to all my engineering classes,” Dubrouillet said, “but because of the location, all the other engineers are around to work and collaborate with on projects.”

The library's namesake, former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., holds two degrees from NC State and is one of the university's staunchest supporters.

“The Hunt Library says that something important is happening at this university,” Hunt said. “It also says that NC State is one of the leading universities in the nation and in the world in providing the best opportunities for students to learn.”

There are nearly 2 million books in the Hunt Library – but you won't find too many lining the shelves. More than 95 percent are managed by the bookBot, a robotic, automated book delivery system that retrieves titles from a giant storehouse within the building.

After a student selects a book from the library's online catalog, one of four book-gathering machines travels the bookBot's climate-controlled aisles looking for the title. Students can watch the robots work through an observation window on the library's first floor.

In five minutes or less, a bin emerges at a pickup area with the book inside.

“We're an engineering school, evidenced by the fact that we have a ‘robotic librarian,'” said Stephen West, a junior in aerospace engineering. “How does it get cooler than that?”

The book-fetching system is just one of many advanced technologies at the new library. During the library design process, planners spoke with engineering students and faculty to see how they worked and what types of spaces they needed. The conversations helped inform how designers crafted the library's study, research and work areas, which include a high-tech, glass-enclosed “Fishbowl” room created to give students and faculty from different fields a place to meet and trade ideas.

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