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Plastic Box and Aluminum Shelving System


This system provides a waterproof box storage system for herbarium specimens.


David J.Bedford
National Herbarium of
New South Wales
Royal Botanic Garden
Mrs. Macquarie’s Road
Sydney 2000 Australia
Tel (02) 231-8111
Fax (02) 251-4403

Photograph: Jaime Plaza
Illustrations: Alexia S. Scott after
Anchor, Mortlock and Woolley
Pty Ltd., Architects

Publication: 1992



The system consists of stable plastic boxes stored in anodized aluminum racks in fixed aisles (Fig. 1). Fixed-aisle shelving was chosen over a compactor system because it allows easier and multiple simultaneous access to the collection. However, it is less space efficient than compactors.

Figure 1. Plastic boxes housed in aluminum storage shelves.

The aluminum racks are smoothly finished to avoid abrading the boxes and lids as they are pulled in and out. For this reason, welded or pop-riveted construction is preferable to nuts and bolts that may have protruding parts. Shelving units are fixed at the bases and are cross-braced between stacks to provide additional stability. Figures 2 and 3 show rack construction details.

Figure 2. Front elevation of single box shelving units. All dimensions are in centimeters.

Figure 3. End elevations of aluminum racking system. left, Double-sided unit.
               right, Single-sided unit. All measurements are in centimeters.

The boxes have rectangular, molded bases made of rigid, high-density polypropylene, and flexible, low-density polyethylene lids (Fig. 4). Both plastics have UV stabilizers added to extend their life.

Figure 4. Front elevation of plastic box. Label holders are ultrasonically welded to the box.

The box dimensions are 33.75cm wide x 49.8cm long. There are two depths of boxes available: 8cm and 16cm.

The sides of the box base are tapered outward from the base to the lip, in order to allow users to get their hands down the sides of the box to retrieve specimen folders without excessive disturbance. For ease in retrieval, a paper sling long enough to extend over the paper folders is placed at the bottom of the box. The sling is used to remove the entire contents of the box. The box base has two label holders on the front for removable cardboard labels. The box lid has a 1.2cm deep lip at the edge to overlap the box side and provide a good seal (Fig. 4).

Materials Tools Supplies

  • Aluminum racking
  • Card stock for labels
  • pH neutral paper, heavy weight (for slings)
  • Polypropylene boxes with polyethylene lids


The boxes are made by injection-moulding the plastics into specially designed moulds. The moulds were constructed for, and are owned by the Royal Botanic gardens, Sydney, but are stored by the box manufacturer Pennicook Davison Pty Ltd. The cost per box and lid combination is approximately AUD $7.00 each for orders of 2000 boxes (1991 prices).

The boxes were designed by architects in the Special Projects branch of the NSW Governments Architects Branch of the Public Works Department to the specifications of the staff at the National Herbarium of New South Wales, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Australia.


The plastic boxes were chosen because:

They are impervious to water and many chemicals. If a water-sprinkler fire protection system is installed in the building, it is important to keep the specimens dry in case of malfunction or triggering of a fire sprinkler. 

The boxes are a deterrent to pest attack, should contain the spread of infestations, and if necessary, can maintain high vapor concentration of pesticides. 

The size of the boxes can be custom manufactured to fit the size of the herbarium folders used by the museum.

The larger boxes (16cm deep) can be used for bulky material, or for small specimens (such as mosses) stored in individual envelopes placed on edge.

One negative aspect of the plastics is that they give off noxious chemicals if burnt. A water/chemical sprinkler fire prevention system should be used.

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