Robotic librarians employed at British Library’s new storage facility


December 9, 2009

The British Library's facilities at Boston Spa

The British Library's facilities at Boston Spa

Although digital storage devices that cram more and more information into smaller and smaller devices continue to be developed, unfortunately the same can't be said for those trusty old analogue data storage devices known as books. However, the British Library’s Boston Spa site in West Yorkshire has used new technology of a different sort in the form of seven robotic cranes that will be used to retrieve items in its new Additional Storage Building (ASB) that will eventually house approximately seven million items from the UK national collection.

Touted as the world’s most advanced library storage facility, the newly opened ASB offers 262 km (163 miles) of temperature- and humidity-controlled storage space and uses an automated storage system that allows the retrieval of any item by means of seven robotic cranes that operate within the storage void where the material is kept.

Items held in the facility are stored in over 140,000 bar-coded containers. The robotic cranes will be used to convey a selected container to a retrieval area where one of the almost 900 members of staff at the Boston Spa site will take out the required item and send it around 275 km (172 miles) down to the Library’s Reading Rooms at St Pancras, where it will arrive for the researcher who requested it within 48 hours.

When it is filled the building will house low-use material including patent applications, books, serials and newspapers in conditions that meet international standards for archival preservation. In addition, the storage void will be a low oxygen environment to reduce any fire risk to the collection.

The material to be moved to the facility is currently housed in a range of lease-hold facilities in London, which the Library plans to fully vacate over the next two years. Low-use material will go to Boston Spa and high-use items to the Library's headquarters at St Pancras. The moves now underway are a huge undertaking with around 400m of material being loaded every day, and some 180km of material to be moved to Boston Spa during the course of the moves. The remaining space within the Building will provide the Library with growth space for the next decade.

Items being loaded into the Boston Spa facility are currently under an embargo to allow the loading to take place as swiftly and efficiently as possible, but access to these items is expected to be restored in summer 2010.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
1 Comment

Are they serious? Just convert them to digital.

Michael Mantion
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