As a Legal Deposit Library since 1710, Cambridge University Library has been entitled to claim a copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland for more than 300 years. Today, the University Library collections encompass around nine million books, manuscripts and other physical items. So what happens when the University Library runs out of space to store them all?

Having recently designed and installed a similar storage solution, SSI Schaefer provided in-depth technical knowledge and design expertise to ensure the required state-of-the-art facility would not only house their important collection in a secure and controlled environment but also provide sufficient storage as it expands over the coming years.

The dedicated facility at Ely is primarily for low usage books and journals which need to be stored safely and securely off site, freeing up vital space in the main University Libraries. All items stored at Ely are post-1850 with the largest book currently housed at the facility being 12 inches deep, believed to be a directory from around 1899. The sheer diversity of material leads to an eclectic mix on any given shelf where you may find a work on nuclear physics in between a children’s book and a car maintenance manual.

Items at the facility are available to any student, researcher and alumni of the University as well as members of the Cambridge University Library and its readers, including members of the public. They can be requested through the library catalogue (iDiscover) and delivered within 24 hours to the library reading rooms for consultation. Should a low usage book suddenly become popular, the warehouse management system will prompt a notification so that it may be relocated to the main library, thereby available for immediate access.

Maximising Storage Density

The SSI Schaefer storage solution involved the construction of 24 aisles of high bay narrow aisle shelving with each aisle being 38 m long with shelving 11m high, providing an overall storage area at the facility of 87,000 m/2 which offers superb storage density.

Over 68,000 dividing shelves were fitted with storage trays located on the shelves 2 or 3 trays deep, providing over 100,000 locations. In addition SSI supplied 25 high density drawer cabinets providing 600 drawers to store large format maps and documents, located within the shelving at ground level.

The post-1850 era of books, journals, maps, and newspapers are best suited to the strict environmental controls within the building’s infrastructure which ensures they are kept in perfect condition. This means a temperature controlled environment between 13 and 20 degrees centigrade with humidity levels between 50 and 55%, made possible thanks to the building’s design which delivers superb insulation and air tightness performance. This also includes the highest levels of fire protection with a state of the art integrated sprinkler system installed in collaboration with Schaefer.

Such is the in-depth detail of design that every aspect has been considered, even down to the picking angles required for reaching/lifting of boxes and books to ensure they are at the optimum ergonomic level for increased work safety. SSI also installed the shelf labelling and signage using a bar code system allowing for full traceability of each item stored at the facility.

Bob Jane, Dynamic Systems Sales Manager at SSI Schaefer commented, “It was a pleasure to work on this project with the team from UoC and the builder R G Carter. Drawing on our experience with other University archive solutions we managed to ensure a closely integrated design that optimised the building capacity in harmony with the operational needs.”

Future Proofed for Expansion

Since taking on the building in May 2018 the University has already stocked the specially designed cardboard trays with 416,000kg of books, around half of the planned number to be in place by August 2019. This will fill around 25% of the expansive storage facility so they are well placed to grow the occupancy, expected to be fully complete within the next 12 years. Future plans are already in place, with an option to expand the existing facility by around 25% with further racking and shelving capacity to ensure continued secure storage in the years to come.

Ady Powell, Facilities & Library Storage Facility Manager commented, “Our new storage facility from SSI Schaefer delivers on all fronts. Huge storage potential, perfect environmental conditions for our rare and unique books, all stored in streamlined, ergonomic shelving which has been designed with the team in mind. Data is available at the touch of a button with a comprehensive warehouse control system to ensure we can pinpoint the exact location of any item, at any time. We’re proud of our facility and the role it plays in ensuring the continued safe keeping of our historic collection.”