Robot librarians, monorail for books: How high-tech gadgets power Mohammed bin Rashid Library

The building is home to interactive books, rare manuscripts, and more

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Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Tue 14 Jun 2022, 10:35 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Jun 2022, 7:19 AM

Retrieving a title from a collection of over 1 million books takes just minutes at the newly opened Mohammed Bin Rashid Library (MBRL). The library is powered by impressive technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and virtual reality.

So, how do you retrieve one title from 1.1 million books stacked at the library? Head to the Information Centre, request for the book and settle down in one of the cosy chairs there.

There is a wonderland of technology at work in the Auto Book Storage area in the basement of MBRL. Once a title has been asked for, the library staff puts in a request at the control centre.

Photo: WAM
Photo: WAM

A robotic vehicle locates the book among thousands of shelves. The shelf is retrieved and brought to the control centre. A light at the top of the counter will shine on the requested book. A library staff then takes the book and places it in the robotic vehicle— which runs on what looks like a monorail — which then delivers the book to the information centre.

As amazing as it is to watch the technology at work, this area remains out of bounds to the general public.

The robot-powered book retrieval system is among the several innovative gadgets inside the library.

Digitising rare manuscripts

Another significant work that MBRL is doing is digitizing old and hard-to-find manuscripts. Using the latest technology, library staff are able to digitize huge books within a matter of minutes.

“This work is very significant in preserving our knowledge,” said Jamal Al Shehhi, board member of MBRL. “Not just books, but we also scan and preserve atlases, maps and other works of significance.”

MBRL currently has over 6 million digitized dissertations in addition to 1.1 million printed and digital books.

Books come alive here

A specialized interactive reading kiosk in white and orange is installed next to the reception. Visitors can pull out a drawer in which 9 rectangular keys, each in Arabic and English, are stored. Upon picking out one key and inserting it into the machine, the reader can view that particular book in an interactive manner.

Complete with a background score, animations and the pages of the books, this will give a truly interactive reading experience to viewer.


Robot librarians

Once inside the library, a visitor might chance upon smart robots. Responding to queries and directing visitors to where they want to go, these robots can be accessed with a “Hey Google” command.

Self-checkout stations are installed throughout MBRL - across its seven floors and nine libraries. The media section also has a scanning area which allows students to scan parts of the reference books they need.

First announced in 2016, the library is built in the shape of a "rehl”, a traditional wooden book rest, mostly used to hold the Holy Quran.

Completed at a cost of Dh1 billion, MBRL will open its doors to public on Thursday, June 16. Those wishing to visit must first register on the website or on the MBRL app. Entry is free for everyone.

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