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Flexible Housing Design for Storage of Ethnographic Objects in a Library


Artifacts housed in a large library must be securely housed and stabilized to withstand storage on open library shelving, frequent transport to reading rooms or study locations far from storage sites, and handling by staff with a wide-range of object handling skills. These adjustable housing variations: protect objects, even in transit; encourage proper handling through labeling and design; and are attractive and allow enough visual access to encourage curators to leave items in containers during casual display.


Collections Stabilization Section Conservation Division Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave.,
SE Washington, DC 20540

Photo Credits: Jim Thurn, Jennifer Lewis and Julie McInnis, Library of Congress Conservation Division

Illustrations: Jennifer Lewis

Publication: 2015



Custom-created corrugated board boxes are outfitted with padding created from foam and polyester batting covered with Tyvek. This can be used to make a simple custom nest within a box for the object, to create removable wall spacers (adhered to 40 point board), or attached to a drop front to provide flexible housing solutions for a variety of object types and shapes.


Materials, Tools & Supplies

  • Custom-made corrugated board boxes (made on box-maker or by hand)
  • Closed-cell polyethylene foam (1/4” sheets up to 1” planks depending on object size) or Volara
  • 40 point board
  • Hot-melt glue
  • Polyester batting
  • Tyvek
  • Hexagonal honeycomb board, ½” thick
  • Foam knives
  • Hot glue gun
  • Micro-spatula
  • Scissors, scalpels, or other cutting tools
  • Cutting mats
  • Rulers



  1. Line the bottom of a corrugated board box with several layers (or a layer of planks) of polyethylene foam. If your object is very heavy, lay a piece of hexagonal honeycomb board below this for reinforcement.
  2. Cut polyethylene foam to fit securely along each side of the box (thickness depends on the object size). If the sides are high, planks may need to be stacked and adhered to the wall or a 40 point board for stability with hot-melt glue. Leave a margin for tucking in Tyvek.
  3. Add a layer of polyester batting to the bottom and along sides of the foam walls. Place a large sheet of Tyvek on top of all, with the smooth side facing up toward the object.

    Diagram 1

  4. Carefully lay the object on top of the Tyvek, checking for fit. Add batting as needed to create a secure padded nest that protects the object without adding too much pressure. A small, thin hand-tool can be use to tuck additional batting into corners.
  5. When you are pleased with the fit, tuck the top edges of the Tyvek between the foam wall liners and the corrugated board box sides, using a micro-spatula.
    Image 2

    Appropriate batting covered with Tyvek, which is then tucked in on the sides

  6. If desired, line the lid with foam or Volara.
  7. Create a photographic label for the box, indicating any handling concerns if needed.Image 3


Variations for small objects

  • Multiple small objects can be housed in this manner in small trays that fit in an outer box for efficiency and protection.
Image 4

Multiple objects in individual trays fit into a larger outside box

  • For very small objects, you can create a more secure and display-worthy box by adding a second layer of thin foam sheeting along the sides, wrapped on top with a U-shaped swatch of textured polypropylene fabric. The Tyvek then tucks between the polypropylene fabric and the inner layer of foam. This keeps the Tyvek more securely in place and provides a nice frame for the objects.

Image 5


Variations for increased handling access (removable walls)

For objects where more access is needed for handling:

  1. Line the bottom of the box with foam (and hexagonal honeycomb board if needed) and cover with Tyvek.
  2. Cut 40 point board to fit each side of the box, leaving an extra ¾” to 1” at the top, which will be creased and folded at a right angle to provide a handle.
  3. Hot melt glue foam planks in position on the board with the rough side facing out, leaving about 1” of room at the sides unglued for tucking Tyvek. Add batting as needed, then cover with a piece of Tyvek, which is then tucked between the foam and the 40 point board with a micro-spatula.
    Image 6

    Foam planks


  4. Slide the boards into place in the box and adjust as needed for fit with the object.
  5. Label the top handle to aid in removal (i.e. “Pull up to access object”).
Image 7

Labeled handles

  • This can also be combined with a drop-front box to allow spacers to be pulled out horizontally, and to encourage proper placement of hands to remove the object. 
  • Optional supports can also be built into the drop front.
Dropfront with removable spacers

Drop front with removable spacers

Dropfront with additional supports

Drop front with additional supports


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