On Wednesday 9 November, the 2016-2017 Graduate Library Trainees (GLT) were bussed to South Marston on the outskirts of Swindon and treated to a tour of the Bodleian Libraries’ £26-million strategic storage solution, the Book Storage Facility (BSF).
The BSF opened in 2010 to accommodate the Bodleian Libraries’ rapidly accumulating collection (expanding at a rate of approximately 170,000 volumes per annum). It has subsequently ingested over 8 million books, maps, manuscripts, music scores, microfilms, microfiches, newspapers, periodicals and other low-usage material from disparate storage locations in and around Oxford (including salt mines in Cheshire). It has the capacity to store 12-13 million items and potential for further expansion.
The Closed-Stack Delivery Service: The BSF retrieves and delivers requested material twice-daily to pre-selected Bodleian reading rooms. Requests are often honoured within 24 hours. On 6 October 2015, the BSF celebrated its one millionth book request (Aristophanes by James Robson to the Sackler).
Jessica Woodward (Taylor Institution Library) describes the BSF tour:
Hardly a day had gone by at the Taylorian when I hadn’t encountered the work of the BSF. Readers would come to my desk wanting to borrow or return books containing neat little white slips, my fellow trainee Will would tantalisingly allude to his activities with crates upstairs, and other colleagues would be glimpsed sifting through items for the leviathan facility to “ingest”. You can imagine, then, that I was really intrigued to see the BSF, and our training session certainly didn’t disappoint.
It began with several Powerpoint presentations on different aspects of the facility’s work: storage, logistics, packaging and book moving. We learnt a lot about choosing the right conditions for books to live in and minimising the potential for wear and tear during transportation. We were even given tea and biscuits to have while we listened, which was greatly appreciated!
We were then taken for a tour of the storage and processing areas. Our group was fortunate to have extra time for this as our coach had arrived early. We watched books being boxed up for delivery to our libraries, to the rhythmic accompaniment of ‘Ghostbusters’ (!). We observed a PhD student using high-tech equipment to research paper conservation, then a giant futuristic door slid open to reveal the incredible 10m-high shelving towers. Many of us were eager to take photos to remind ourselves of the impressive scale of these. As we wandered around, dodging the forklift trucks that were zippily picking up and depositing material, we learnt that all kinds of collections can be found in warehouse’s depths, from books to maps, paintings to toys!
Sadly it was soon time for us to take the coach home, but I came away with a lasting sense of how complex an organisation the Bodleian is and how hard its staff work to ensure readers have access to the greatest possible variety of educational materials. I am very grateful to everyone involved in running the training session for providing such a fascinating insight into this awe-inspiring library outpost.