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£26M British Library depository opens

The British Library’s £26M Additional Storage Building (ASB) has opened at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire.

The building gives the British Library additional storage for some 7M items from national collections, project managed by Capita Symonds and designed by Atkins.

The fully-automated building has 262km of linear shelf space - enough to stretch from London to Manchester - for the national collection which growing by 12.5km of linear shelf space per year.

Capita Symonds director, Paul Terry, said: “It is great to see the initial aspirations of the Library developed through the many stages into a working solution. It has been a pleasure working with the custodians of our national written heritage to achieve a step change in the approach to the storage and retrieval of important documents.”

The project is the first of its kind to incorporate automated storage and retrieval systems, optimum environmental controls, and pioneering low-oxygen fire prevention technology in a single building where oxygen levels are kept to just 14.8%. Fires break out if oxygen levels are at 17% and above.

“The design and construction of the ASB has been a huge task, involving Library staff from a wide range of different areas, along with external providers such as Capita Symonds,” Director of Finance and Corporate Services at the British Library, Steve Morris.

“It is tremendously gratifying to see the building functioning as designed and even taking in material at a faster rate than originally planned. These collection items form a substantial part of the memory of the nation and we are delighted to now be able to store them in environmental conditions that will ensure their long-term survival,” he said.

The building is also one of the most air-tight in the UK - the leakage rate specification is not more than 0.5 cubic metre of air per square metre of wall area per hour (0.5m3/m2/hr).


When users of the St Pancras Reading Rooms order a particular item that is stored at the ASB, the system will identify the container holding the document and bring it to a library operator for retrieval. The item will then be dispatched via the regular delivery service to the main British Library Reading Rooms at St Pancras in London where the applicant will be able to inspect it within 48 hours of ordering.

Other features include:

  • The racking housing the book containers is supported by a 350mm thick, super-flat steel fibre reinforced floor slab which acts as a raft to eliminate differential settlement and keep the building perfectly level;
  • The air conditioning system maintains a controlled, microbe-free climate at a constant temperature of 16ºc (+/- 1%) and constant humidity of 52% (+/- 5%);
  • The storage repository itself features insulated vertical walls with a four hour fire resistance rating and a double-sealed, thermally efficient roof.


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