The following is a post by Leslie Long, Preservation Specialist, and Lily Tyndall, Preservation Technician, Preservation Directorate. Leslie Long is a Preservation Specialist in the General Collections Conservation Section in the Library of Congress’ Preservation Division. She enjoys paper marbling and performing in the Library Chorale! Lily Tyndall is a Preservation Technician in the General Collections Conservation Section in the Library of Congress’ Preservation Division. When she isn’t repairing books, you can probably find her watching a Marvel movie!
The box making activities in the General Collections Conservation Section (GCCS) provide significant protection for thousands of fragile or otherwise vulnerable items in the collections of the Library of Congress each year. Each GCCS staff member contributes to this effort by measuring items for boxing, operating the Library’s two box making machines, folding and then labeling the resulting boxes with call numbers and barcodes.
Box making at the Library of Congress had its origins in the concept of “phased preservation” introduced by Peter Waters, the Library’s first Conservation Officer and Chief of the Conservation Division in the 1970s. The idea was to care for the Library’s huge collections in stages or “phases” by housing those items in need of treatment in “phase boxes” while they waited their turn in the stacks, the library’s vast network of book shelves, for treatment or a more solid and impressive cloth-covered box. The phase box constituted a preservation standard for many years; these days, the Library’s custom enclosures are a more stable and well-designed option.
The first phase boxes were made by hand with the help of a creasing machine until the introduction of the Library’s first automated box making machine designed by Peter Waters’ son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Carmen Waters.
Since then, the original box making machine has been replaced by two Kasemake machines. Each GCCS staff member schedules a four to six hour shift on one of the machines each work-week to make housings. Each of us is liaison to several divisions, and during our box making shifts, we make any housings our liaison division requests in addition to housings for items from the constant supply of General Collections materials that are sent to us from the Collections Management Division for treatment or housing.
The most popular box styles among the many available to Library staff are the four-flap enclosure made of 20 point cardstock, the wrapper also made of 20 point cardstock, and the clamshell box made of gray E flute corrugated board or the thicker gray B flute corrugated board.
The box style and material chosen by each box making staffer for an item depends on the fragility of the item, the size and weight of the item, and the needs of the division to which the item belongs.
For example, a children’s book from the General Collections with an irregular shape might benefit from a four-flap enclosure made of 20 point cardstock. A wrapper style enclosure is excellent for lighter weight items that measure at least 25 millimeters thick.
A heavy, fragile leather bound book from Special Collections needs the security and stability of a clamshell box made of E flute corrugated board. The heaviest collection items require the thickness and strength of B flute corrugated board, possibly in a two-piece style with a separate lid. A two-piece box with a drop-front is also available for items that will be more safely slid rather than lifted out of their housings.
In GCCS, staff members house a variety of items in a single box making shift in order to batch produce enclosures; however, staff members make individual decisions about how to best house each item while completing their shifts. The book “Ciaio” is an excellent example to demonstrate this process; because its cover opens irregularly, it could become damaged on the shelf via snagging on other books or not being closed properly, and thus needs rehousing to keep it safe.A staff member begins by measuring the book on the measuring tool, recording the length, height, and width. Then, they power on the Kasemake machine and start the Kasemake software, testing and calibrating the tools on the machine to ensure top performance. Noting that the item is less than 25mm in thickness, the staff member determines this item needs a 4-flap enclosure to best secure it. For general collections items, GCCS typically uses the thinner 20 point cardstock to promote stack space efficiency. Inputting the measurements into the chosen template, the staff member then runs the machine to cut and crease the box for this item as well as any other items in the batch. Finally, the staff member folds the box, duplicates the barcode and call number labels for the outside of the box, and places the item in its new home!
Several mobile measuring devices can be taken to reading rooms and into the book stacks to avoid the wear and tear of removing collection materials from their divisions for housing.
All the Library’s supplies of board and cardstock are tested by our Preservation Research and Testing Division staff before use as collection housing materials.
The results of testing are available to the public on the Library’s website under the heading Preservation Supply Specifications.
The contribution of the GCCS staff’s housing activities to the protection of the Library’s collections is inestimable. Last year, the section’s eight staff members housed 9,411 collection items.
For more information, check out A Brief History of Preservation efforts at the Library of Congress.