The University of Chicago is about to open their newest library, [the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library][mansueto], which stores all of its items in a fully-automated underground vault. Library users can request a book online and the system will automatically fetch the appropriate container, from which library staff can retrieve it.
It’s all very cool, but I find myself wondering about the implications of a library where users can’t browse the collection. At [my own library][Woodson], we have a [research collection][Harsh] whose stacks are closed to the public. While this means that material can be preserved – there are some extremely rare, valuable and fragile works in the collection – the opportunity cost of such a setup means that patrons can’t browse the collection and discover things they didn’t know they wanted.