I have always loved puzzles. Easy ones, complicated ones, larges ones. No matter how challenging, it is always fascinating to me how the pieces come together at the end in one piece, like magic.
I never imagined, though, that one day I would use my puzzle-solving skills for space management of collections. This started some years ago, when the Library of Congress decided to expand the types of collections sent to our offsite storage facility at Fort Meade. In addition to book format collections, we incorporated many other special formats like maps, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, sheet music, globes, rugs, three-dimensional materials, microfilm, and negatives, among others. In 2008 I was tasked with creating a space distribution system to accommodate millions of items and containers placed on many thousands of shelves within a very a large space, in the most efficient way possible.
And this is the planograph.
In short, the planograph is a blueprint of every single shelf inside a storage module with the configuration details of what container goes on each shelf, in what position, and how high. It determines how much vertical height (called elevation) needs to be available between each shelf, on each shelving unit that goes up to 30 feet high. In other words, the planograph is a gigantic puzzle with millions of pieces on many thousands of shelves.
Besides being a space management system that optimizes the allocation in any given area, one of the most important features of the planograph is that it offers complete flexibility during the transfer logistics of collections. This means that one can move any container from any stakeholder, in any order, in any quantity, and any time.
When I was designing the planograph concept, I visited other institutions in the U.S. with offsite storage to examine their storage systems, but no one had developed something quite like this at that time.
This concept started as part of the construction requirements for the new collection’s storage modules 3 & 4 and cold vaults in 2008. Due to the addition of special format collections, I needed to find an efficient way to distribute millions of containers belonging to thirteen custodial divisions. Each Division wanted their collections placed together, one after another, in their assigned space inside the storage modules. In addition, these collections already were housed in over 1,500 different sizes of boxes.
So, to address this challenge, facilitate the transfer, and avoid issues with long title descriptions, I created a Collection ID (Coll ID) number as a unique identifier for each dimension of each collection of each Division. This number placed on each container, accordingly, became the link between the containers and their location on the shelf.
As a result, the planograph mapped a total of 2.6 million containers of 1,500 different dimensions into 35,000 shelves. It was a long and complex task. The process required engineering the space distribution for many different containers and ensuring accuracy by checking the number of containers with intense attention to details. My former supervisor called it “a work of love.”
Therefore, when the planograph was finalized, the data translated into architectural drawings.
The shelving image allows us to visualize the design of each one of the many thousands of shelves and was used to support the work of offsite staff as the containers arrived. The image below shows some details of the planograph drawings. The red line connects the left image of one shelf’s elevation with the Collection IDs assigned to that shelf to the respective shelf layout on the right, showing how the boxes need to be positioned on the shelf.
The image below exemplifies the variety of containers that required mapping and shelf layouts with various Collections IDs. In some cases, Collection IDs have the number 2 added in parentheses indicating that containers are stored 2-high. This also means that each shelf has a specific elevation to ensure that all the boxes fit in that space.
As I mentioned, no one had ever done this before and it was quite nerve-racking to see if the planograph would work as planned. It did! The model was a success for Modules 3 & 4 and the cold vaults. Collections were moved ahead of deadlines without problems. As a result, I was asked to design the planograph using the same model with Collections IDs for collections transferred to Module 5.
When I began working on Module 6, I updated the unique identifier from Collections IDs to Containers IDs. This change means that each Container ID is linked to a specific container type, such as document storage boxes or sheet music boxes, using a combination of letters and numbers identifying each container dimension. So, the planograph transitioned from collections-based to container-based space distribution. This gave the Custodial Divisions more flexibility in planning future transfers. We initially established a list of 15 standard container formats both for book and special formats that fit most of the collections moving offsite. While most of the collections fit inside the standard containers, I also established custom containers IDs when necessary.
And this system has been in place since 2021.
The image below shows an example of the shelf layout with Containers IDs. Document storage boxes are represented by the letters DS1 and sheet music containers with SM. It is possible to fit 23 DS1 containers on one shelf, because 3 of them are rotated in the back to really optimize the entire space of the shelf.
But there is more to the planograph process before collections are placed on shelves inside the modules. It is important to make sure that the shelves have been positioned with the correct elevations. You can just imagine that if there is any discrepancy, even if it is 1 inch, the containers will not fit on that shelf. This would affect the entire upright shelving unit that goes up to 30 feet high and the entire space distribution for the module. So, I also inspect the shelves set up during construction to make sure each one has been placed at the correct height in each module. And there are many thousands of shelves in each module.
Pressure aside, I can gladly confirm that the planograph system has proved to be a huge success in all levels and it has been adopted in all subsequent modules to date. I am already working on the planograph for Module 7 since construction will start soon.
So, I can certainly say that I love puzzles. How about you?
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