ASSOCIATES (2007, November, v. 14, no. 2)


Cardboard and Gray Matter!

massey.gifTinker Massey
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

…with thoughts from Cheryl Dadabo

Our Acquisitions area in Technical Services handles the incoming mail and many of the outgoing sources for packaging. We don’t think much about these things until the boxes and packing materials grow to such gargantuan proportions that they endanger our working space. I have worked in libraries where we “cut down” the boxes, a method of slicing along the packing seams to flatten the box, and then store them either in one large pile or in various sized piles according to your organizational paranoia. I have even stored boxes inside of one another, compacting space, but that leads to a mystery search when something specific is needed. This is the first place I have worked that stores boxes in their pristine condition. Why, you ask? Well… we have several sections whose purpose is to share materials with outside patrons through ILL (some physical books, etc. need to be mailed), and our Worldwide group sends materials to the over 130 sub-campuses around the world where we teach, also providing other materials from the library that are needed, similar to a special ILL for our own folks. We have an enormous flow of boxes and packing material. I think it is probably similar for most libraries and so we might take a look at some of the history, conditions and ludicrous thoughts that escape our minds on this subject.

Boxes! We get them every day – small, large and every size in between. Some are standard “flap style” that can be opened easily as the knife follows the crack in the tape. Some publishers have gone to a “top over” style, that finds the top fitting snuggly over the bottom and glued with some kind of gorilla cement that won’t let go no matter what. We find that for these, we have to create our own flap, cutting the entire top out of the box. Those boxes are lost for any re-use, but they are really lost anyway, because they look like some large truck has run over them or at least parked on them for days by the time we receive them. Those boxes are despised by one and all! There are smaller boxes that take on the form of the packaged material and they usually have tabs for pulling (which only tear) or instructions to pull the side out (how does that work?). We should be happy, but they have the same problems as the other boxes, only the parts are smaller and harder to handle. Sometimes we get large boxes which house one small item way down in the bottom, covered by wadded up coarse brown paper swirled in the box. They remind me of brown snakes coiled and fighting against any strength I can muster to pull them out and away from the treasure. Oddly enough, the treasure is usually a DVD huddling against the darkness of the paper. So, granting the different styles and sizes, we empty and keep them as is, so that other people can use them again.

1107mas11.gifBut what of the packing material? From the 60’s when I first started in library work, I found stuffing boxes a supreme pleasure of some evil-minded person. The government boxes were especially good at filling packages with shredded materials. First there was newspaper, then shredded paper (did they come from think-tanks or the super spy division? Hmm?), and then little pills of Styrofoam that literally jumped out of the packages into any orifice or cracks in the floor. What a mess! Long handled tweezers and knives were often used to pry the beads out of their hiding places. Soon, publishers began to use the Styrofoam peanuts and I believe there was even a biodegradable stuffing made from some kind of cane syrup – or at least that’s what I heard. My favorite Styrofoam packing is the weird looking pieces cut to fit corners and strange holes which are covered in a steel gray/aluminum sheeting. We have been using them in our seasonal displays as rocks with flowers growing from their edges or as Halloween tombstones half deteriorated by the wear of time.

Well, you have to have some imagination or at least a sense of humor. I have found boxes filled with shreds of plastic pieces and sometimes glass remnants that will eat you alive if you aren’t wearing gloves. I really enjoy the “hot air bags” that seem to have a diminishing amount of air even as we speak. Who fills those? I have heard that they come from Congress, but that seems far fetched. Goodness knows the most loved packing material is the roll of “bubble wrap.” I have seen people easing their stresses as they pop each little cell. I’ve also known some people who roll over them with their chairs and listen to the din of pops, laughing like hyenas. Hmm? Well, something must have happened to the stuffing makers, because we seem to have reverted back to sheets of white paper (sometimes rumpled and sometimes folded) or brown kindergarten paper (we used to draw brick walls on it) that withstands tsunamis in any hemisphere. We still get the occasional Styrofoam in all formats, cuts of cardboard, air bags, poppers, but there isn’t a real standout anymore. Wait!!! We just got a new air bag shaped like Popsicle bags. These bags are full of air (they must have found a new supply. Where?)At the end of the day, we look at our stacks and rows of boxes and try to create something more philosophically acceptable by everyone, but there is only so much one can do with cardboard. We just wait for the next unsuspecting staffer to come asking for boxes and we jump up and help them fill their arms with a standing invitation to return soon!!!

Tinker Massey is the Serials Librarian, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida. Tinker has been contributing to Associates since the first issue in July 1994. Cheryl Dadabo is in the Acquisitions Department and Biletnikoff Langhorn is in the Library’s Media Center.