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Box Making Activities in the General Collections Conservation Section

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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.

Image shows a computer tower and screen and control panel and table of automated Kasemake box making machine while it is cutting boxes.
Automated Kasemake Box Making Machine in the process of cutting box templates. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image depicts a number of boxed and unboxed books on a shelf. The boxed books are housed in old-style phase boxes according to traditional Library practice.
Phase boxes for Library items in the stacks. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image shows an older model computer and monitor and table with crossbar comprising an automated box making machine, with board on the table being cut into boxes.
The original automated box machine at the Library of Congress. Preservation Staff, c. 2000, Preservation Directorate.

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 image depicts four book carts, two oriented away from the lens and two with the shelves shown, holding various types of Library materials to be boxed.
Four carts of Library materials to be boxed, including children’s books, special format books, and brittle and sensitive items. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image depicts three boxes on a table. Top left is a book in yellow cardstock wrapper; top right is a book in a yellow cardstock four-flap; bottom center is an empty blue board clamshell.
Clockwise from top left: a wrapper box in 20 point cardstock, a four flap box in 20 point cardstock, and a clamshell in E Flute corrugated board. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image depicts a children’s book with a straight spine but otherwise irregular in the shape of the character Peter Rabbit. The background is green, the rabbit is brown and wears a blue jacket.
Children’s book in the shape of Peter Rabbit. Leslie Long, May 25th, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

The image depicts a brown book in an open yellow cardstock wrapper. Top and bottom segments match the book’s thickness; right and left panels wrap over the cover and cinch closed.
The book “The Making of Modern Egypt” is an excellent candidate for this wrapper as it is a lighter item with a thickness of over 25 millimeters. The box first folds in at the head and tail of the book, then the right panel wraps over the cover and the left panel wraps and cinches the box closed.

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.

The image depicts a brown, leather-bound book sitting inside a book measuring tool.
A heavy, leather-bound item from Special Collections that requires the stability of an E Flute or B Flute clamshell. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.


Image depicts an item inside an open blue board clamshell. The item has a green and gold outline with a white background with a family portrait in the center.
A rare children’s toy that requires the stability of a corrugated clamshell and depicts the variety of items in the Library’s collection. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.


Image shows an open two piece blue board box with a brown, leather-bound book. The front tab of the bottom of the box is flipped down and the lid is to the right.
A rare, leather-bound book inside of a drop front box with lid made of E Flute corrugated board, allowing for easier and safer handling and removal. Leslie Long, May 25th, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

[Image depicts a black book with white cover detailing and red title. The cover splits at three-quarters, the larger flap opening left and the smaller opening right.
The book “Ciaio,” with an irregularly opening cover, needs rehousing to protect it from damage. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.
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.

Image depicts a wooden book measuring tool with a lined sheet of paper for recording book measurements. The board has a moveable wooden piece and measuring strip.
The portable book measuring tool Library employees utilize to measure books in the GCCS workroom or in situ in Library storage areas; the moveable wooden panel allows the measurer to determine the exact length, width, and thickness of the volume against the built-in measuring strip. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image depicts an upright shelving unit. Top to bottom the shelves hold yellow corrugated board, blue corrugated board, yellow cardstock, and blue corrugated board.
The various rehousing materials utilized by Library staff, from the top: yellow B Flute corrugated board, blue E Flute corrugated board, yellow 20 point cardstock, B Flute corrugated board. Leslie Long, May 26th, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

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.

Image depicts a full book cart. Both shelves hold rehoused books inside of yellow cardstock or white envelopes that are labeled with call numbers and barcodes.
A completed cart of rehoused Library collection items, featuring labeled and folded wrappers, four flap enclosures, and envelopes ready for return to the stacks. Leslie Long, May 23rd, 2022, Preservation Directorate.

For more information, check out A Brief History of Preservation efforts at the Library of Congress.

Comments (8)

  1. Good God this is Awesome, simply awesome!

    The skill, the care, the craft, the purpose all bring tears to my eyes.

    Thank you for this inspiring post!

    • Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Love all the pictures!

    • Thank you for reading!

  3. May I thank you for your great work I’m really so proud of you I wish I ‘ll be a part of that place

    • Thank you for taking the time to read!

  4. I want to become an archivist. Is this something they teach you or you learn about? Thanks.

    • That’s a great question. To get in touch with Preservation staff and learn more, we invite you to use our Ask a Librarian resource!

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