Decanting the Past into the Future

As was mentioned in my previous blog about the Trainees’ swap shop hosted at the Cathedral, we are having some pretty serious work done to the library’s ceiling. In order to protect our lovely books from the manifold dangers implicit in building work of such a nature, it was necessary to move them out – wholesale – to another location.


Books being wrapped.

My previous blog dealt with wrapping. Today I’d like to talk to you about packing. And shifting. Putting books into boxes has many advantages. It makes it easier to carry lots of them in one go. It also adds a sturdy layer of corrugated cardboard to further protect them.

First, the boxes were gently layered with bubble wrap, and the books, upon being deposited inside, were lovingly ensconced within a protective helping of biodegradable filler-puffs (christened ‘Wotsits’ by one of our volunteers, owing to their similarity with the popular maize-based, cheese-flavoured snack).

Boxes can, of course, sometimes be too heavy. We had to make sure that our boxes weighed no more than 15kg – roughly the weight of a small spaniel, or fifteen one kilogram bags of self-raising flour. But we had no scales, and a rare books library is no place for animals or food. So we launched an appeal for loans of bathroom scales, and received a really good response. At first, we would weigh ourselves. Then we would weigh ourselves holding a box. Using maths, it was possible to work out how much the box weighed. At length, though, we discovered that it was better to just weigh the books. Not least, this prevented any sensitive information about my own body weight from falling into enemy hands.


The old technique of weighing boxes was soon superseded by a more efficient method.

We recorded information as we went. Each box was numbered, and the shelf-marks of the books were recorded as and when they were put into the boxes. This means that we can tell straightaway which box contains which books – a helpful way to keep track of them as they move between sites.

Books in boxes take up much more room than books on shelves. Unlike Tokyo, it’s just an inefficient use of space. This meant that it soon seemed like we had more boxes than we had room for – so we had to be really inventive. Every available bit of floor, shelf, cupboard or flat surface was used, while making sure we left passageways between the stacks of boxes, and keeping clear access to fire escapes and extinguishers. Safety first.


Many boxes.

As soon as the last books were boxed, it was time to take them out. Simultaneously, the builders swooped in and started preparing for their end of things. Even though the books would be safe, our (far less portable) 17th Century shelving had to stay in place, and required protection.


The specialist builders prime the shelves with protective sheeting.

As any of you who have visited the library will now, access is only available via a narrow spiral staircase. Moving all the boxes down there would be a task not even Hercules could manage. Fortunately, we had a lift installed, and had the help of the Cathedral’s service team move everything out.


Hercules wasn’t required for this job, but Theseus was – in order to navigate around the labyrinth formed by the boxes.

It took us three and a half days to achieve in the end. Fortunately, the weekend came in the middle of that period – providing much needed rest and recuperation. In the end, we had something like 1500 boxes – getting on for 22,500 kg in weight – almost as much as a Soviet T-34 tank, although considerably less than a Tiger II.


The library – almost empty.

The building work is due to finish in the Summer – and then we have to move everything back in.

Tom Hopkins