Course:4: Housing Your Collections
Lesson:Lesson 1: Assessing and Improving Your Building
Topic:Records Storage Equipment


Records Storage Equipment 

The storage equipment that you use in your storage areas can also affect the preservation of your collections. Storage furniture can produce by-products that react to create damaging chemicals in the presence of moisture and oxygen. This can be a serious problem in map cases, file drawers, locked bookcases, or exhibit cases. Historical materials stored in closed cabinets should always be protectively enclosed.  


If possible, use heavy 18-gauge steel shelving with a baked enamel finish. Avoid wooden shelving and wooden materials around archival materials. Wood contains pitch, resin, and other acidic elements that can cause deterioration of historical records. If you must use wood, make sure that you seal it with latex paint, air-drying enamels, or moisture-cured (also called “moisture-borne”) urethane. 

Make sure the floor can handle the weight of the fully loaded shelving. You don’t want the floor to cave in! You can have an engineer or someone with expertise in building construction check the shelving and weight ratios for the floor area. 

Shelving should have adequate support. It should be bolted to adjacent units and to the floor so it is stable. Shelving should also: 

  • Have back and side braces
  • Have adjustable shelves
  • Be 12 inches away from outside walls
  • Have the bottom shelf elevated 4 – 6 inches from the floor
  • Have two inches of clearance between the bottom of the shelf and the top box on the next lower shelf.

Metal shelving

Steel shelving with a baked enamel finish. Note that bottom shelf with boxes is 4" off the floor.



Filing Cabinets

Filing cabinets are not the best storage equipment for historical records. They are best used in reference areas for non-historical materials that are frequently accessed. If you must use filing cabinets to store historical materials, make sure that 

  • The records are supported by the file cabinet equipment, or sturdy spacers that will support the records (they shouldn’t be slumping or curling)
  • There is no chipping or peeling of the cabinet finish

Equipment for Oversize Materials 

Oversize materials can be awkward to handle and store. Consider the following when housing large drawings and other rolled or sheet materials: 

  • Drawers for oversize materials should be no more than 2 inches deep
  • Drawers should be filled only half full
  • Map cases should have flexible cloth dust covers
  • Materials that are over 36 x 48 inches should generally be rolled ON, not in, tubes and secured with acid free ribbon.

More Help

Resource iconIf you’re interested in doing a more in depth evaluation of your building, we have a Facility Assessment Questionnaire for you to utilize. Fill out one questionnaire for each location where records are stored.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center has many publications regarding facility assessment and preservation concerns. Click here to check out their site.

Challenging book storage
Challenging Book Storage

 Large books stored flat in box
Oversized materials need special care.

 Handling Maps In Drawers
Drawers for oversized materials should be no more than 2" deep and filled half full.