Manchester Central Library, in Manchester, England, has sent 1.5 million of its books into a deep underground storage unit, to wait there while the library undergoes renovations. The books represent about 22 miles of shelving, and are the rarest, oldest members of Manchester Central Library’s collection. Some of the books date back to the 15th century. They are being stored in Deepstore, an underground specialist storage space maintained by the town of Winsford — in its salt mine.
The salt mines provide cavernous storage space that about equals the space contained in 700 football fields. Experts in book archiving say that the mines are the perfect environment for preserving old, rare books and manuscripts. The mines, which are 250 years old, remain at a constant temperature of 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), a constant humidity of 65 percent, and are free from the danger of flooding, ultraviolet radiation, and insects.
Head of library services Neil MacInnes explained in today’s Winsford Guardian: “With so many rare and precious books of significant historical importance being temporarily removed from Central Library, it is vital that they are stored securely and in the best conditions….The salt mines are an absolutely invaluable resource for this. The team at Deepstore are extremely experienced and we have the peace of mind that the collection will be kept safely until they can be returned to the library.”
The Manchester Central Library’s oldest book is a 13th century, handwritten copy of the Justinian Code, or the Codex Justinianus, the Roman Emperor Justinian’s law code. The library’s oldest printed book is a Latin Bible from 1473. The Manchester Central Library also owns copies of early works by Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, John Evelyn, and William Shakespeare.
While the books are stored in the salt mines, they will also be digitally catalogued. When the Manchester Central Library does reopen, in 2013, it will have cutting-edge facilities, including an electronic catalogue and archive center that will house several historical collections of local interest. When the renovations were first announced in January, MacInnes commented, “When Central Library reopens, it will be a real world class facility that Manchester can rightly be proud of, completely in keeping with its history and heritage.”
Not all of Manchester Central Library’s books were sent into the salt mines. Some, including a few rare works, will be placed in a temporary library in Elliot House, on Deansgate. Many of the library’s staff members will be relocated to First Street, where a temporary services center for library patrons will open starting early this summer.
The library’s renovations will be complete in approximately three years. When the library is ready, it will pull the books back out of storage. Currently, one part of the library remains open — the General Readers’ Library on the ground floor. The General Readers’ Library is slated to close on June 18. Central Library users, however, may still use other Manchester libraries.
The Central Library’s books are not the only documents being preserved in Deepstore’s salt mines. London’s national archive has documents there, and so do several local police departments, hospitals, and universities, as well as the BBC. The salt mines even hold a scale model of Wembley Stadium.