Archival Storage Room Recommendations

Margot Note

Margot Note

May 01, 2023

Archival storage rooms must be limited to the storage of archival collections; they should incorporate only materials necessary to house collections.

Materials typically used in storage rooms include shelving, cabinets, boxes or containers housing the collections, and book trucks and carts used to move and transport records.

Area Needs

The storage areas should ideally be at or above ground level with no windows or skylights. The framing materials should be steel, masonry, and concrete. The exterior walls must be of fire-resistant, durable products like masonry; the building envelope should never be composed of composite wall systems or spray-on or trowel applications over steel and gypsum. Interior systems should be easy to maintain and constructed of durable, fire-resistant products.

Except for fire protection sprinklers, no plumbing or water pipes should run through archival spaces, especially storage areas.

The floors need to be durable, level, free from dust, and have a smooth finish allowing book trucks and carts to be maneuvered by members. Sealed and epoxy-covered concrete is the recommended flooring for storage rooms. In addition, the floors should be constructed of steel-reinforced concrete and sized to withstand the heavy load placed upon them by the archival material and its shelving. Open stack floor loads are typically 150 pounds per square foot, while mobile shelving system floor loads are 250 pounds per square foot or higher.

Latex-based paints are recommended for the storage rooms’ walls, ceilings, and exposed pipes. For example, concrete block walls in the storage room should be primed and painted with latex-based paint to prevent dust. Likewise, ceiling pipes and metal wall panels should be coated with an acrylic primer (water-reducible) and covered with latex paint.

Shelving Specs

Shelving, cabinet materials, and storage furnishings to hold archival materials should be steel. Steel shelving is the most common shelving and cabinet material used in archival facilities. It is inert, and it is not combustible. Most metal storage furniture has a coated surface. The finish should be smooth, nonabrasive, free of irregularities, and resistant to chipping. Exposed steel is susceptible to rust and will stain collections. It should be finished with an electrostatically applied powder-coated finish to avoid the baked enamel’s off-gassing problems.

Archival shelving can be either static or mobile, with the latter having a manual or an electrically operated carriage system. The choice of a shelving system depends on factors, including space, budget, and technical considerations. Mobile shelving requires a heavier floor load than static shelving and may not be feasible in existing buildings.

The shelving should be arranged in configurations that make maximum use of the floor space while still conforming to fire and safety regulations. Shelving is usually arranged in rectangular blocks with one or more main transportation aisles. Shelving bays should be placed at least one inch away from any wall in a storage area to avoid heat and cold radiation and protect collections from water running down the walls from overhead leaks. If the outer storage wall is an exterior wall, 18 inches should be maintained between the shelving and the exterior wall. Shelving should also be six inches from the interior walls, especially if the walls contain pipes. Shelving should be located a minimum of three inches – preferably six inches – from the floor and be anchored to the floor, particularly if the top shelf is eight or more feet tall. Shelving should permit the free circulation of air around cartons.

The central aisles in storage areas should be at least 48 inches wide. The storage aisles should be a minimum of 36 inches wide. The stack aisles may need to be wider to access oversized records safely.

Standard-sized cardboard records storage cartons (10 by 12 by 15 inches) result in the maximum utilization of shelving and storage space, accommodating both letter size (8 ½ by 11 inches) and legal size (8 ½ by 14 inches) documents. Cartons should have a minimum bursting pressure of 200 pounds. Double-walled and stitched cartons are more durable and can withstand frequent handling; glued and single-walled cartons are acceptable.

If the shelving height requires a ladder, it should have safety rails on both sides and stair treads, preferably open-grid rather than rubber. There should also be a 12-inch distance between steps and a 10- to 12-inch deep work platform fastened to the top of the ladder. It should also have rolling casters for easy movement, with rubber-tipped legs or casters that lock in place and a base wide enough to prevent tipping. If a ladder is unneeded, a step stool, like a typical library-issue kick stool, can be used instead.

Making the Best of What You Have

As a consultant, I’ve seen all types of archival storage areas—from the dingiest warehouse to the most state-of-the-art facility. No matter where an organization begins with its storage areas, there are always areas for improvement. The most crucial factors are to create the best environmental conditions and to have intellectual and physical control of your holdings. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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