Glimpse of a Huge Library Offsite Facility

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.”

 

Bodleian BSF Shelving

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.

Image via Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees blog

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Custom Bookcases with Carvings for a LotR Collection

Now this is a treasure, preciouss! A Finland-based company built these amazing custom bookcases for a collection of figurines and other materials from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases

Many (if not all?) of the bookcases also have carved crowns. Here’s the Rohan one:

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases Rohan

There are also metal shields that function as handles:

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases Dragon

Puustikki talk about their project a bit on Facebook:

“Finally we’re able to publish photos of these custom made, epic showcases for LOTR and Hobbit figurine collection. Probably the biggest collection in Finland and now it’s also displayed in showcases it deserves! This whole thing is 100% handmade out of solid oak and we wanted to use glass doors to maximize visibility into the cases. Each one of the showcases has distinct features to corresponding races/nations; carvings on the top and a custom made steel handle.

“Height of these wooden marvels is 250cm, so they barely fit into a regular house! [sic]”

 

Puustikki is run by carpenter Jarkko Pilvinen and jeweler Juho Manninen. The makers pull their inspiration from history and historical fantasy. At this writing, their online store includes drinking horns, a picnic table and benches, beds, dragon pegboards, runed coasters, and jewelry, among others.

My goodness! Astounding, aren’t they? Stylistically, a lot of their other wares are not our style at all, but as a maker myself, I really admire and appreciate the consideration and effort that went into all of their designs.

Check out the Puustikki website or Instagram for more.

Images by Jukka Alasaari Photography via Puustikki on Facebook

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

The Four Styles of Lego Pop Wall Art

Lego seems to be trying to appeal to older fans as well as kids: they’re now offering some pixelated “pop art” (to quote CNN Style). These Lego art pieces depict Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, some of the Sith from Star Wars, and Iron Man.

Lego Art Options Screencap

I don’t know about you, but this is a really cool idea. I just wish there were more of them, and more women plus BIPOC.

In related news, did you know you can buy individual Lego bricks? I may have to dust off my pixelating software skills…! 😀

Found via File 770.

Image: screencap from LEGO website.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

New Find: Neanderthals Worked with Fibers to Make Yarn or Cord

The world’s oldest yarn or cord has been found. The fragment was discovered at the prehistoric cave site Abri du Maras in the south of France.

Scientific Reports Hardy et al Neanderthal Fiber

The 3-ply cord fragment was made from fibers by twisting, likely of inner conifer bark, and found on a stone tool. A number of artefacts at the same site also have plant / wood fibers adhering to their surfaces, but the remains are not extensive enough to classify as cords.

The researchers estimate the meaning of the find thus:

“While it is clear that the cord from Abri du Maras demonstrates Neanderthals’ ability to manufacture cordage, it hints at a much larger fibre technology. Once the production of a twisted, plied cord has been accomplished it is possible to manufacture bags, mats, nets, fabric, baskets, structures, snares, and even watercraft. […]

“Ropes and baskets are central to a large number of human activities. They facilitate the transport and storage of foodstuffs, aid in the design of complex tools (hafts, fishing, navigation) or objects (art, decoration). The technological and artistic applications of twisted fibre technologies are vast. Once adopted, fibre technology would have been indispensable and would have been a part of everyday life.”

 

Fascinating! Like the research team says, fiber making allows for an incredibly large variety of material culture, from utilitarian objects to clothing to decorative motifs. As a bit of a fiber nerd, it’s tantalizing to think that people were making yarn already 40,000 years ago.

Found via CNN. Read more in Scientific Reports.

Image: Hardy, B.L., Moncel, M., Kerfant, C. et al. in “Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications” via Scientific Reports

A Rich Anglo-Saxon Burial Chamber Found in Essex

A new-ish Anglo-Saxon burial chamber found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in southern England has all of the markings of a valuable find, both in terms of quality and quantity of the grave goods and of historical significance.

The male body was placed within a wooden coffin in a timber room. The burial most likely dates to the late 6th century (575-605 CE). It was first discovered in 2003 in remarkably good condition.

MOLA Prittlewell Burial Chamber Drawing

Artefacts from the burial were studied at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), and the most impressive items are now on permanent display at Southend Central Museum in Southend-on-Sea. MOLA has also created an interactive website for the find.

Just some of the items discovered include a gold belt buckle, two Frankish gold coins, a beautiful sword, iron-bound buckets, a huge metal cauldron, latticed glass beakers, a tall iron candelabrum, a folding iron stool, a basin and a flagon made from copper alloy, a silver spoon, a painted wooden box, and an Anglo-Saxon lyre.

MOLA Prittlewell Blue Glass Decorated Beaker

Incidentally, the wooden box is so far the only surviving example of painted Anglo-Saxon woodwork!

MOLA Prittlewell Painted Wooden Box

MOLA The Guardian Prittlewell Gold Copper Item Collage

There are two interesting implications for the burial. Firstly, two gold foil crosses were likely placed on the body’s eyes. If the burial can indeed be placed at its earliest possible date, it makes the connection to Christianity remarkable because it would predate Augustine’s mission to convert the British in 597. A royal connection has been surmised (Seaxa, a younger brother of king Sæbert of Essex, whose mother Ricula was Æthelbert of Kent’s sister) but not confirmed.

(King Æthelbert of Kent married a Merovingian Christian princess called Bertha in 580, so Roman Christianity was known to Anglo-Saxons to some degree by the end of the 6th century, but to my knowledge we had previously not known of other converts outside their court prior to 600.)

Secondly, although Essex has earlier been seen as an Anglo-Saxon backwater of sorts, this rich burial chamber suggests otherwise. Indeed, some of the luxury items come from the near-by continental Europe (the Frankish gold coins), but others have much more far-reaching origins (the Byzantine or Syrian copper alloy flagon, for example).

Having studied Anglo-Saxons myself and witnessed Erik’s research on the side, I keep being amazed at how much paraphernalia is extant from the Roman period and early middle ages onwards. Not only that, but how much of it is still being discovered! If you tour any of the major museums of Roman history in Germany, for example, you will see massive (massive!) amounts of metalwork, gold, silver, glass, and pottery. And what’s on display doesn’t even account for the remnants in storage.

People from old cultures had as large incentives as we do today to dress up and surround themselves with ornate household goods—after all, we are humans who like their stuff, right? Their ability to do so naturally depended on the resources available in the area and era, and—despite what most of us seem to have been taught—early history is full of times when our predecessors were able to produce items on a massive scale and the richest in those societies did have the wherewithal to go all out.

Like the Staffordshire helmet, the Prittlewell burial will be of immense importance to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history and culture. I’m so delighted it was found!

Images by MOLA; collage of the gold and copper alloy items by MOLA via The Guardian.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Slavic Pagan Fusion Photoshoot Is Out of This World

This photo project is an older one, but due to the buzz generated by The Witcher screen adaptation it might be of interest.

(FYI: I can’t find a webpage dedicated solely to the project, so what I know mainly comes from an article at Design You Trust.)

Polish photographer and graphic designer Marcin Nagraba collaborated with designer Agnieszka Osipa to create a photoshoot entitled Pagan Poetry. Stylistically it can be described as Slavic fusion meets myth, fantasy, or Baroque. Osipa’s outfits certainly are out of this world—just check out the three examples below!

FB Marcin Nagraba See No Evil

FB Marcin Nagraba White and Red

FB Marcin Nagraba Alberta Ushakova

Nagraba’s personal Facebook page states he’s a “Former Photographer at Marcin Nagraba – Photography & Art”, so it sounds like he will not be continuing this project. Osipa is active, however, and she’s posting new work on Instagram and Facebook.

Found via Design You Trust. Check out the article and Nagraba’s Facebook page for more photos!

Images by Marcin Nagraba via Facebook: See No Evil, red and white, Alberta Ushakova.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Visual Inspiration: Organic Shapes in a Garden Cottage

This ensuite cottage in Pali Hill, Mumbai, sits within a garden and literally brings the nature to your side. There are doors and windows, but both are oval or roundish, and even the former are see-through.

The White Room Garden Room Bed

It was created by the India-based architectural studio The White Room, run by Nitin Barchha and Disney Davis. The organic shapes immediately have an otherworldly effect—at least I’ve never been in and rarely seen a house like this.

The White Room Garden Room Entry Hall

The White Room Garden Room TV

And here’s the ensuite bathroom:

The White Room Garden Room Ensuite

I do have a vague recollection of maybe seeing something like this in Star Trek somewhere. Other than that, the closest existing visuals that come to mind are sets Weta Workshop created for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. It would be nice to see—or read of—more interiors that deviate so starkly from our own.

Found via Colossal.

Images by The White Room

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Visual Inspiration: Aztec-Engineered Floating Garden Islands

Did you know that Aztecs created floating garden islands on swamps to feed 200,000+ people? I didn’t before now.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model

An article by Lynette Townsend for the Museum of New Zealand descibes the structure of the chinampas:

“These ingenious creations were built up from the lake bed by piling layers of mud, decaying vegetation and reeds. This was a great way of recycling waste from the capital city Tenochtitlan. Each garden was framed and held together by wooden poles bound by reeds and then anchored to the lake floor with finely pruned willow trees. The Aztecs also dredged mud from the base of the canals which both kept the waterways clear and rejuvenate [sic] the nutrient levels in the gardens.”

Apparently the chinampas were separated by channels, and canoes were used for transport. In addition to food crops and flowers grown, fish and birds drawn to the chinampas were caught for food as well.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model Closeup

What an incredibly smart feature to engineer! It also strikes me as a fantastic (no pun intended), pragmatic thing to adapt into a SFFnal world.

Found via Ultrafacts at Tumblr.

Images: models by artisan collective Te Mahi via Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Game of Thrones Now Also on Fabric

Another adaptation of the hugely successful tv series Game of Thrones is out. Embroiderers at the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk Museum produced a 77-meter long textile in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry.

NMNI GoT Tapestry Webpage Banner

Originally the embroidery depicted events, locations, and story from seasons 1 through 7, but in June 2019 further panels depicting season 8 were due to be added.

The R-rated tapestry was on display at the Ulster Museum earlier this year, but the exhibition page and a few small photos are still up on their website.

National Museums Northern Ireland GoT Tapestry1 Game-of-Thrones-400-b.xc97d611f

National Museums Northern Ireland GoT Tapestry2 Game-of-Thrones-400-c.x0c90f6d2

While we loved the production values for the show and the intricacy of the writing, we stopped watching after season 3 due to the upsetting amount of violence. I do confess, however, that this project really tickles the textile history geek part of my brain!

Found via Helsingin Sanomat (NB. Finnish only).

Images: Embroiderers at work by Paul Faith / AFP via Helsingin Sanomat. The others: Tourism NI via National Museums Northern Ireland.

Historical Miniaturization: An Astronomical Ring that Opens into a Sphere

The Swedish History Museum shared this nifty gadget on their Facebook page:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring1

We all know looks can be deceiving, right? That’s definitely the case with this item. It’s a German 16th-century ring that turns into an astronomical sphere:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring2

It’s a brilliant example of the possibilities of miniaturization technologies. I’m immediately thinking of a fantasy or alternate history world where a (rich!) scholar takes this with them when traveling for work.

Images by Historiska museet via Facebook

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?