Book and Paper Group Wiki > Housings
Housings are protective enclosures for objects intended to mitigate deterioration from physical and chemical factors in the environment. Housings for paper objects vary in design and materials depending on an object’s format, how it will be used, and how it will be stored. Standard housings are outlined here as well as factors to consider in planning housing projects.
Wiki Compilers: Jessica Makin, Jo Anne Martinez-Kilgore, Susan Russick
Wiki Contributors: Angela M. Andres, Melina Avery, Sonya Barron, Mary Baughman, Lou Di Gennaro, Cynthia Kapteyn, Katherine Kelly, Susannah Kendall, Andrea Knowlton, Ann Lindsey, Sarah Reidell, please add your name
- 1 General Considerations
- 2 Case Studies
- 3 Book Housings
- 4 Flat Paper Housings
- 5 Photograph Housings
- 6 External Links
Protection of the Object During In-House Storage
Housing design should protect and support an item and be absent of features that will cause any damage over time. The design should also be “user friendly” - intuitive to open and close, if possible. A housing structure should be capable of being opened easily and staying closed when at rest. The components of the housing that are in contact with the item should not have any edges that could mark the item over time and should fit the item well so that no shifting occurs within the housing. Housings should not be overly heavy or cumbersome to move. This issue becomes a significant design concern when housing large and heavy objects. Closures should be easy to use and should remain attached through many uses.
ISO standards for paper, paperboard, and plastic to house cultural heritage materials are numerous. These standards measure the physical and chemical characteristics of materials and work to ensure that products are permanent and durable over time.
Materials that are slower to degrade and are less reactive with other substances should be used for housings. In general, long lasting paper and paperboards are those that are free of lignin, pH neutral or alkaline buffered, composed of high-quality raw materials such as long cellulose fibers, and free from harmful additives (coatings, release agents, etc.). Stable plastics such as polyester terephthalate (Mylar™, Melinex™), polyethylene (Ethafoam™, Tyvek™), and polypropylene are chemically acceptable. Even chemically acceptable materials may present other issues such as static electricity.
It is good to gather information on all products purchased for preservation of collections. When identifying products to purchase, watch for language from vendors citing standards and the PAT (photographic activity test). Ask to view Material Data Sheets and watch for language citing the use of additives, fillers, or coatings. Ask for samples of products before purchase. If possible, talk with colleagues concerning vendors or products that are known to be consistently preservation quality and of high-quality manufacture.
Prioritization and Selection for Housing
Deciding how to prioritize housings can involve several groups of considerations. Qualities that may influence the decision include the needs of the object, how the object will be used, where it will be stored, and how it will be marked or identified. This topic is also addressed here (see Selection for Preservation).
Objects which may be prioritized for housings include irregularly shaped or multipart objects. For these, the housing can allow non-standard objects to sit on the shelf, keep all pieces or sets of materials together and in order, and can make it obvious if a part is missing. Fragile or reactive materials may benefit from a housing by providing physical protection, mitigate fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and aid in chemical stability. Housing of an object may be prioritized if the object is damaging to adjacent materials, such as being scratched by the neighboring book’s clasps. Housings can be used to protect people in cases where materials are hazardous because they were created using toxic components, have been exposed to mold, or were poisoned as a pest control measure.
The location where the object will be stored can influence the type of housing. Furniture can dictate standard sizes for folders and boxes. Some locations, such as high-density storage facilities may require special features such as handles on boxes or barcodes.
Housings can ease handling and object use. An object that is very low use can be housed prioritizing density, while frequently used materials may be stored in housings that can double as display mounts. Housing for circulating materials may need to provide sturdy, foolproof protection.
- Images courtesy of Northwestern University
Cost can be a significant factor in choosing housing solutions. This issue should be considered relative to the materials required, but also in the amount of staff time it takes to complete a housing project, and the amount of space the housings will occupy in storage. The most cost-effective approach for housing is usually to standardize solutions within the collection but have the flexibility to customize when considerations dictate. Standard solutions allow objects to be grouped within drawers, boxes and on shelves. Individual objects may require an investment in custom solutions because of their structure or how they will be used. The cost of materials, necessary staff time, the space available for housings in storage (including the added bulk of the materials used to create them) should be considered in the planning process. In projects with large numbers of housings, these dimensions can add up.
For example, housing individual objects in multi-layered matting structures within drawers occupies a significant amount of space but provides a stable way to access and display frequently used materials. Matting in storage may be appropriate for art on paper. Storing groups of objects in folders and boxes provides high density storage that is not dependent on flat file drawers, which are often the most costly storage option. High density storage is often used in archives. A four-flap book box made of 20 pt. board will add a few millimeters of shelf space while a box made of 60 pt. board will triple that. Libraries often will house smaller and lighter weight volumes in boxes made of thinner materials to save shelf space when possible.
Protection of the User
Housings can protect the user from the object, whether the object is hazardous due to its original materials, use, or exposure to biohazards such as mold. Labeling on the housing indicating the hazard(s) present is warranted.
Historically, many materials used for record production have included hazardous chemicals. Common examples of these include numerous pigments and some metals. Lead based pigments (white and red) have been used as media on the page. Brown lead pigments have been used to coat end leaves of books as a pest control measure. Lead can also be used in tax stamps and seals. Vermillion or cinnabar, which are mercury based, were commonly used for rubricating manuscripts and are an ingredient in red wax seals. Orpiment (yellow) contains arsenic. Emerald green (copper acetoarsenite) has been used for book cloth. Materials can become hazardous due to original use, such as Marie Currie’s notebooks being radioactive. These papers are stored in lead-lined boxes at the Biblioteque National in Paris.
Most commonly, materials have been exposed to mold, pesticides, animal waste or other biohazards. While still of value, they may carry toxins or likely allergens that are unsafe to store without a housing. Mold is discussed at length here (see Mold) and can result in visible mold, blocking of papers, odors, and severe allergens. Pests can leave casings, carcasses, excrement, and nesting materials behind. These can hold bacteria and viruses including the rodent transferred Hantavirus. In order to deter pests, a wide variety of chemicals have been historically used. Pesticides can be difficult to identify. DDT and other pesticides may appear as a white or tan powder sprinkled onto scattered pages, gray crystals, or as staining from a liquid spray. Often there is no visible presence, but an odor that alerts the conservator that a pesticide is present. Personal protective equipment is recommended when handling materials exposed to mold, pests and pesticides.
Housings can isolate materials to limit spread of hazardous materials during storage. Labels can warn users before opening the box.
Accessibility is an important factor in the choice of an effective housing. Consider the ways that an object might be used within the collection. Ask if it will be displayed, is it part of a circulating collection, or will it need to travel? Is there a housing that might protect and support an object during storage and use while still fitting into standards dictated by similar objects or limitations on storage space?
Objects that are often used for study may need to be protected from frequent handling. An encapsulation or a “back and wrap” housing (see explanation below) would protect an object from the oils that may be deposited from a person’s hands and offer physical support. Objects that are often displayed may need to be fitted into a case or a frame so a housing which can be flexible for storage and display may be ideal. A storage mat or cloth covered box might be appropriate and prevent the need to move the object to a new housing for display. If an object is accessed often, it might be stored in an individual folder in a drawer rather than rolled with other objects around a tube, reducing the need to disturb other objects.
After considering how the object will be used within the collection, the level of presentation or “fancy factor” will also have bearing on the housing design. Will the object be displayed in its housing? This issue will inform how elaborate or finished a housing should look and the expense (in time and materials) required. Its presentation can affect the perception of its relative importance or value. Examples include a flat paper object housed in a mat that can be used for storage and framed display or a beautifully constructed cloth covered custom box may hold an object for study, storage, and exhibition. Housings may help maintain order and add security.
Identification of collection materials is crucial to maintaining item control of objects. Groups of materials or individual items are assigned identification names or numbers during the cataloguing or archival description process. Additional information such as barcodes, item numbering, etc. may also be required. The type of collection may dictate if the information is applied to the object itself versus the housing.
- Direct Marking of Objects - Collection materials may be marked directly on the object with hand applied inscriptions, ink transfer stamps, book plates, labels or through other methods. The manner of marking should be consistent and done using long lasting materials. While the marking should not disfigure the object, some institutions intentionally mark materials in a readily visible place as a theft deterrent. The practice of directly marking objects varies - most libraries directly mark circulating collections and may apply some direct marks to special collections materials.
- Indirect Marking of Objects - For some materials, indirect marking is preferred. Individual materials are indirectly marked using book flags, tie-on tags, non-adhesive plastic straps are applied to the object. Indirect markings are often used for museums, archives, and special library collections and to augment and expand on direct identification.
- Images courtesy of Northwestern University
Labeling of Housings
Identification of materials by marking housings is often used for archival materials. Individual objects in archives may not be marked directly on the objects themselves.
The accurate and comprehensive labelling of housings is crucial to reduce the handling and wear and tear on the housing and the object contained. The text of any label should be as brief as possible while adequately describing the contents. At minimum labels should contain a unique identifying number.
Labelling can be printed on paper or other substrate (laser or inkjet), handwritten, embossed or inked by a machine, or hot stamped on leather or paper. Labels can be adhered with liquid adhesive, pressure sensitive adhesive, or can be precoated with water activated or heat activated adhesive.
Attention to using legible font and a font size that is large enough to be readily visible is important. Photographs may be included on labels to aide in object identification and reduce handling. Paper and inks used for labelling should be durable and permanent. It may be advisable to coat computer printed labels to “fix” inks onto paper. If possible, test label materials (paper and adhesive) to observe how they resist to abrasion, fading, and adhesive failure.
Another important aspect of labelling is to indicate if the contents are fragile, hazardous, restricted or emotionally impactful (crime scene photos). Appropriate wording reflecting institution policy should be consistent and clear.
Maintaining appropriate temperature, relative humidity, freedom from pollutants, light and other conditions for collection materials is critical and is discussed at length here (see Environmental Guidelines) and here (see Ten Agents of Deterioration). Housings can mitigate imperfections in the storage environment or can exacerbate problems.
Housings produce microenvironments which may have positive or negative results. A housing may smooth sudden shifts in temperature and humidity, block light and reduce gaseous and particulate pollutants.
The housing can be constructed using special materials to further alter the interior microclimate. Silica gel can be used to stabilize humidity, tarnish inhibitors can slow metal reactions, and zeolites can be used to absorb volatile organic compounds. These may require regular maintenance - if not changed periodically, the same chemical sponge used to absorb organic compounds can release them.
While plastic housings may protect objects during use, when they are used in high humidity environments, they can result in a microenvironment that can cause ferrotyping or encourage mold growth within the enclosure. Some plastic materials carry a static electric charge and can attract dust – they should be avoided in dusty environments. Corrugated structures can act as apartment buildings for nesting insects. Furniture may influence or dictate the type or size of housings used.
The following case studies outline the many variables considered while planning housing projects for paper-based materials and may act as helpful guides in decision making for similar materials or circumstances.
- Martinez-Kilgore, Jo Anne. 2021. “Housing Decision Making Case Study: Large Format Corrugated Clamshell Boxes for Aerial Photos.” Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records.
- Russick, Susan. 2021. “Housing Decision Making Case Study: Lincoln Letter.” Northwestern University Libraries.
- See Phase Box
Phase Box Variations
Clear Spine Wrapper
Andres, Angela M. 2019. "Wrapper With a Clear Spine." Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
- Instructions for constructing 20 point wrappers where the spine is made of polyester, to facilitate browsing or for bound volumes on display.
Andres, Angela M. 2019. "Variation on a Wrapper With a Clear Spine." Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
- A variation on the instructions above, developed for vellum-over-boards bindings. This enclosure features an inner flap that closes over the volume from the fore-edge before the rest of the wrapper is closed. This inner flap helps to discourage the tendency of the vellum-covered boards to warp.
Andres, Angela M. 2020. "Custom housing for an oversize antiphonary". The University of Kansas Libraries.
- A standard two-piece corrugated box was modified to provide easier access to a frequently-used oversized antiphonary. Modifications include exterior handles and a sliding inner tray with handles to facilitate removal of the heavy volume.
Baughman, Mary. 1996. "Book Cozy". The Harry Ransom Center.
- The book cozy was designed and developed in the 1990s by Mary Baughman, book conservator for the Harry Ransom Center, to provide protection for heavy, large bound volumes (like antiphonals) while in storage and transit within the building. While the book cozy does provide padding and protection, it does not provide support for bindings with structural problems. The book cozies have thus far proven to be a very good solution for the materials in the Harry Ransom Center's collection that have been housed in this way. As for all housings, materials used in construction should be tested and shown to be safe for use in housing collection objects.
Lindsey, Ann. 2019. "'Sled' for 52-Pound Antiphonary". University of Chicago Library.
- The "sled" is an open-topped housing for an oversized book which is stored flat. It is designed to enable the safe transport of oversized books, and does not add substantial weight to an already heavy object. Inspired by the antiphonary housings at the Newberry Library.
Drop Spine Box
- See Drop Spine Box
Drop Spine Box with Interior Cradle
Corrugated Clamshell Box
Flat Paper Housings
- See also: Matting and Framing
Oversized Prints and Drawings
Kapteyn, Cynthia and Sonya Barron. 2018. "A Table to Reckon With: Developing a Portfolio Housing Structure for an Oversized Periodic Table."
Cased Photograph Housing
- Protects cased photographs.
- Uses color images in addition to registration numbers on outside of boxes for easy identification, reducing handling and unnecessary opening and closing of boxes.
- Provides cushioning for earthquake mitigation.
Solander boxes were lined with 1/2" thick ethafoam sheet with cut-outs for individual objects. Custom clamshell boxes were made of acid-free corrugated board by the The HF Group.
Glass Plate Negatives
Upright Housing of Broken Glass Plate Negatives
Blog post on the upright housing of broken glass plate negatives at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor: "Mystery Glass Negatives from Land's End"
- Storage Techniques for Art, Science, and History (STASH)
- Indiana University Libraries Book Repair Manual
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