One of the biggest challenges for libraries and archives is storing unusual formats. Miniature books, over-sized books measuring between what could be anywhere from 23 to 50 inches tall, ephemeral pieces like small, slim pamphlets, handbills and posters all pose unique storage considerations for libraries and archives. Often, these unusual formats are stored with each other since it is safer to store large books together rather than having large books potentially crushing smaller, more fragile items.  One unusual format that is challenging for Sutro Library is oversized flat materials. Like many archives, we store our flat items such as blueprints, posters, or this map of 1745 map of Louisiana, together in flat files:

Lousiana map

Safely transporting these items for patron use is a struggle. Our flat files are located some distance from the 5th floor reading room where patrons use these materials. This means that Sutro staff have had to page or retrieve oversized items from remote storage and traverse through many doors to get the items to the patron.   Ideally, we would have a rolling cart big enough to move large items flat but then we would have to store this large cart somewhere when it is not needed—and space in an archives is a valuable commodity.  Needless to say, trying to walk with a map that is 48 x 36 inches through a standard door or elevator is a unique challenge.

This past spring, with the assistance of the California State Library Foundation, we were able to commission a custom map carrier to be made for us. Based on a map carrier Stanford University Library’s Conservation Department made for their special collections department, we asked Sarah Elson, a professional conservator, to make a replica for our use:


Our new map carrier allows us to safely put a large, flat item into the holder, tie it closed, and tuck the carrier comfortably under one’s arm. The handle allows the person to keep their arm straight and in a neutral position, giving ergonomic comfort and control of the carrier as one moves through the building:


Having this carrier available allows us to safely move our large rare materials safely between our locations and will ensure their safety for years to come.  As the Library of Congress states, proper handling any collection item, is one of the more effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures.

We would like to extend our thanks to Peter Whidden at Stanford University Libraries Special Collections and Archives for allowing Sarah Elson to view and measure their carrier.  We would also like to thank our Foundation for funding this important project.

This post and all of the images are by Mattie Taormina, Director, Sutro Library.


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