The British Library has unveiled a new automated storage facility which has an estimated cost of £26 million (US$ 42.5 million).
The warehouse, located in the village of Boston Spa in West Yorkshire, will eventually house about seven million items which are to be stored in 140,000 bar-coded containers.
These materials are currently stored in a range of leased properties in London, and items with relative low-usage will be transferred to the new facility.
The containers will be put on shelves by one of the seven robots, which move along 210 kilometres of track along the storage space.
The environment has been designed to keep the books from the damages of time. “The worst thing for paper is the change in temperature or humidity,” says Steve Morris, Director of Finance and Corporate Services, British Library. “We maintain both at a constant level here.”
Some of the oxygen is squeezed out of the storage space and replaced by nitrogen to create a ‘non-inflammable environment’, according to Morris.
The robots pull out the containers and take them to a retrieval area for the staff to take out requested documents.
“The cranes are actually the only part of the organisation that would know where the books are,” says Morris. “When an item is bar-coded and recorded in the software, the crane knows where to put it, and we don’t have to tell it that.”
The movement of robots is governed by an algorithm, which will also, over time, move the more frequently used boxes to the front of the warehouse.
The whole project is estimated to be completed by summer 2011. And there are plans to build a similar storage at an adjacent site for the Library’s massive newspaper collection.
Morris concludes: “Both the current facility and the planned Newspaper building are part of the Library’s 70-year masterplan for the Boston Spa site – as such we’re making a long-term investment which will ensure that this substantial part of the UK’s intellectual heritage survives for future generations of researchers.”
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