Library Blog

A New Phase

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Is it just a phase? Or something more?

Today's blog post is written in honor of the often-overlooked, humble-yet-mighty phase-box.

A well made box can have a bigger impact on the longevity of a book than almost anything else you can do for it. It protects vulnerable covers and pages against bumps and bruises, spills, tears, and crushing from neighboring books. It blocks out harmful sunlight, and provides a small micro-climate to buffer against environmental changes. A box can even provide a measure of protection in the case of a fire. No small feat for one simple structure!

       (left) Rare Books awaiting their new homes  (right) Completed housing


           (left) A book without a cover  (right) Safe within a new box

You may wonder, with all of these benefits, shouldn't every fragile or rare book have a box? Well, the short answer is yes. That would be great. But the truth is, clamshell boxes, the gold standard of book enclosures, are expensive and time intensive to produce. They also can take up a lot of space on a bookshelf, which can be an issue as library shelves become more crowded, and space becomes a valuable commodity.

Enter our hero, the phase box. Like the clamshell, they are custom fitted to each book, though they are quicker and less expensive to produce. And the feeling when a well-made phase box opens to reveal a perfectly fitted book inside - priceless!

Some of our rarest and oldest, books belong to our Winthrop and Sharp collections. They are lucky enough to reside in our secure Special Collections Stacks, where they luxuriate in their environmentally controlled haven. Some are in perfect shape, others show their age. Each could use more protection. I've made it my mission to ensure that each one has its own housing this year. I've used a slightly modified version of the phase box, bolstered with archival corrugated board for sturdiness, and with custom inserts for irregularly shaped tomes.

Just a phase? I think not.

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