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Open-faced Steel Shelving


This system provides a sturdy shelving system that is flexible, and easy to adjust and modify by museum staff. The system can be constructed to fit around architectural features, such as support columns, ceiling beams, recesses, and other obstructing features to maximize the use of available space. It can be custom designed and assembled from modular units to fit the needs of the institution.


Denis B. Alsford
2938 Richmond Road
Ottawa, Ontario K2B 6S5
Tel (613) 829-0126

Photograph: R. Garner,
Canadian Mus. of Civilization

Illustrations: Denis Alsford 

Publication: 1992


The shelving units are composed of uprights, supporting back and side plates, shelves and drawers (Fig. 1). The system can be easily adjusted and modified, and its assembly requires no special tools. The system will support a full mezzanine level up to a total height of approximately 24ft. Back and side panels are available to prevent objects from falling into restricted spaces, or to act as fire breaks in the system.

The bottom shelf is secured to the uprights at the front by a gusset plate; the top shelf may be secured by the same means, or may be secured by a lateral plate. Shelves are adjustable in 1in increments, without the use of tools, and without the need to disturb shelves above, below, or in an adjacent unit. The finish is a high quality baked enamel, and all surfaces are free of blemishes. There are no sharp corners or edges.

Figure 1. Open-faced steel shelving system.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • Uprights
    Available in any desired length to take advantage of available ceiling heights. Each unit includes four uprights (Fig. 2).

    Figure 2. Basic construc-tion components of shelv-ing system.

  • Shelves
    Shelving units are available in widths of 3ft, 4ft, 6ft, and 8ft. Up to 4ft widths are available in one piece, and shelves 6ft or 8ft wide are available in 6in deep sections that interlock to provide total depths from 12in to 36in. Shelf depths of 12in, 18in, 24in, 30in and 36in also are available. Two rows may be placed back-to-back to double the usable depth of a shelf (Fig. 3).

    Figure 3. Detail of shelf and shelf clips.
  • Supports
    Lateral back and side plates are 6in deep (Fig. 2). There are also corner gusset plates, shelf clips and wide span shelf supports (Figs. 2, 3 and 4).

    Figure 4. Wide span shelves and shelf supports.

  • Drawers
    A modular drawer system is available to fit 36in and 48in wide sections, and 18in and 24in deep units (Fig. 1). Drawer front heights are from 3in to 14in in 1in increments. A ball-bearing carriage system allows smooth opening, and full extension of the drawers to provide full view and easy access and retrieval. Weight loading capacity, fully extended, is from 220lbs to 440lbs. Dividers and a locking system are also available.

  • Additional components include:
    • tubes for storing rolled textiles
    • telescopic cantilever arm for lightweight objects.
    • Support arms for lightweight sliding shelves that may be made in-house. Such shelves may be removed and used as a tray to carry the objects to some alternative work station.


With a high ceiling in excess of 20ft, it is possible to plan a collections holding space of up to 12ft high that includes support beams for a future mezzanine. A floor grating system for a mezzanine may be added at a later date by splicing new shelving to existing uprights at the mezzanine level, thus almost doubling the available shelving space. A clearance of 6in between the floor and bottom shelf can reduce the problems associated with floods, and will permit the use of a vacuum cleaner.

The system also lends itself to the development of numerous types of fittings, such as vertical sliding panels for two dimensional works of art, large lightweight sliding panels for textiles, and other forms that may be developed in-house. It has the potential to provide other possibilities such as a simple exhibition case system, or, using acrylic panels and clips, to create a visual storage system.

Adapted From

Alsford, D. B., and S. Alsford. 1989. Housing the reserve collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec, 80pp.

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