THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

19 November 2018

What’s in a box?

Well, mostly books and newspapers, but other objects in the British Library collection too. We do this at our Boston Spa, West Yorkshire site, where the Collection Care North team are based. They make around 15,000 boxes a year.

What do we box?

  • Legal Deposit newspapers, national and regional titles.
  • Damaged books.
  • Books that have received conservation treatment.
  • Fragile and/or valuable books.
  • 3D objects, for example the 3,000 year old Chinese oracle bones, artefacts from the Punch Magazine archive.

IMG_1267

Some of the Chinese Oracle bones in their storage box.

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Repaired book with a phase box.

How do we make boxes?

We have two digital flatbed cutting machines that cut and crease the card for us. The only manual bit is placing a sheet of box board on the machine and taking the cut out board and folding it into the box.

Boxing 1
Six boxes cut out of one sheet of box board, ready for folding.

The machine has three tool heads:

  • A blade to the cut the card.
  • A creasing wheel that marks out the folds.
  • A pen that we can use to write the book or object information on the outside of the box, so no need for sticky labels. 

Zund tool head

Left to right: cutting blade; creasing wheel, pen.

There are a few different designs of box that we use depending on what item the box is for. All of our boxes are made to a bespoke size. If the item is stored/arrived at Boston Spa we measure them on site. If any boxes are requested for items in St. Pancras, then the measurements are sent to us.

Book measurer 2
Book/newspaper measurer.

The boxes have to fit snugly to the item so that it can’t move around inside. This is particularly important for the newspapers that are boxed. Several editions go in one box; a weeks’ worth of one national title, or a months’ worth of a regional paper. If the box is too big and allows the newspapers inside to move about, this will cause them damage, but it will also potentially cause problems in the store. The National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa is home to the National Newspaper Archive. The building is a high density store, with capacity to store 60 million newspapers. To aid fast retrieval of requested items from the shelves, which are 20 meters high, robotic cranes operate in the store. If a box was too big for a bundle of newspapers and they moved about inside as they were being retrieved this could cause the crane to malfunction with the unexpected shift in weight of the box.

Box board

We use four different types of box board. There are two main differences between them; thickness and structural design. We use a solid card in thicknesses of 6.5 mm and 1 mm, and a corrugated card in thicknesses of 1.1 mm and 1.3 mm. The type of box board chosen depends on the size and weight of the item being boxed.

C card
Sample of 1.3 mm thick corrugated box board.

The corrugated card is stronger, so used on very big or heavy books. However it is thicker and will take up more space on a shelf, so we can’t box everything in the strongest card if it doesn’t require it and a thinner card will offer the necessary protection.

Boxing 3
Boxes ready for folding.

Advantages of boxing

  • A large range of designs available to suit all kinds of objects, made to bespoke measurements.
  • Reduces potential physical damage caused by handling and transport.
  • Protects against dust and other contaminants.
  • Buffers against changes in temperature and relative humidity. Incorrect levels of either can lead to chemical and physical deterioration.
  • Quick and efficient option to protect fragile/vulnerable/damaged items.

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Collection Care Support Assistant operating one of the digital flatbed cutting machines.

Disadvantages of boxing

  • By placing an item in a box, we are making the item bigger, even if only by millimetres, so a boxed item will take up more room on a shelf.

So if you ever receive an item in one of the British Library reading rooms or from our remote supply service and it’s in a box, that item is probably fragile - so please handle carefully. Boxes proudly made in Yorkshire!

 

Emily Watts, Collection Care North Manager