Ever wondered where the really big libraries store their collections? The answer is, increasingly, somewhere else.
Offsite storage sounds cumbersome—after all, you’d have to build, buy, or rent the building, possibly convert the structure, and bring in shelving or other storage containers before you can even think about moving the physical items themselves—but it might actually be the most practical solution, especially in case of old institutions built in high-density urban areas. Also, apart from library science, collections care, digitizing, and preservation, setting up a remote storage facility requires knowledge of logistics and warehousing.
Here’s a chance to peek into the Bodleian Book Storage Facility near Swindon, UK. The BSF holds over 12 million items (books, maps, manuscripts, microfilms, periodicals and newspapers) in a warehouse constructed specifically for the library, and at this writing has been in operation for ten years.
Bodleian describes the facility capacity on their website for completed projects thus:
“The Book Storage Facility consists of an eleven-metre tall solid shelving system comprising 31 Very Narrow Aisles (VNA), with seven different bay type configurations to accommodate the different sizes of books and other materials. It also has a capacity equivalent to 153 miles (230 kilometres) of shelf space and a five level multi-tier structure for map storage. To guarantee the books’ preservation for the long-term, volumes are stored in 745,000 bar-coded and specially designed storage trays and boxes that are of archival standard. Floor area of the warehouse equates to 1.6 football pitches, although the high-density shelving provides shelf surface area equivalent to 16.5 football pitches.”
Below is an excerpt from the post written by Daniel Haynes (haynesd) for the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees blog:
“The BSF is huge. Its shelves are 11 metres high and over 70 metres long. Before the automatic lights kick in, the narrow aisles seem to converge into darkness. We wore high-visibility jackets to alert staff driving the book-retrieval vehicles to our presence. A cross between a cherry-picker and a forklift, these vehicles are configured to fit exactly between the shelves, allowing staff to retrieve an impressive average of one book per minute.”
Haynes also lists some of the challenges involved:
“Low-use books kept in storage might suddenly become grow in demand and require relocation ‘on-site’, or vice-versa;
Renovation or building work might require temporary storage (in fact, the BSF currently holds several thousand volumes from Cambridge), so could your facility accommodate for that?
Existing space can always be reconfigured to meet new challenges and needs;
Since an off-site facility means books always moving around, could it also offer research facilities? Some libraries are considering specialised reading rooms to avoid transit for fragile or valuable material.”
As I’ve has to wait for a book to arrive from offsite storage to a library for me, I appreciated this glimpse into the backend operations of large library warehouses.
How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.