Packing Bins to Transport Library Books

Library operations frequently require transport of books between libraries and units such as the Harvard Depository (HD), Information & Technical Services (ITS), Collections Care and Imaging Services in Widener Library, and the Weissman Preservation Center. Harvard University Mail Services (HUMS) provides transport services to these locations. Packing, moving, and unpacking can damage books and should be done with care.




  • Heavy-duty polypropylene, hinged-lid bins provide sturdy support. Blue bins are the standard containers for transporting books between ITS and Harvard libraries and they come in three sizes. Green bins are generally used to transport materials between libraries and to Preservation Services. Red and gray bins are used to transport books between the libraries and HD.
  • Foam rubber packing sheets, custom-sized to fit in bins, provide cushioning. These are distributed to Harvard libraries from the ITS mail room at 625 Massachusetts Avenue. When foam rubber cushioning is not available, please use other unprinted packing material such as packing paper. Please do not use newspaper as ink may transfer to the books.




  • Limit the weight of packed bins to no more than 40 pounds so that they can be lifted comfortably. Bins weighing more than 40 pounds will not be accepted by Harvard University Mail Services (HUMS).
  • Distribute the weight evenly within the bins.
  • Use cushioning so that books do not shift and bang against each other.
  • Place books with the tail or spine down when storing on edge; when shipping flat, place larger books on the bottom and stack like a pyramid, then cushion the stack.
  • Packed bins should remain horizontal at all times; use two hands to lift.
  • Place containers carefully on the ground or stack; do not drop, throw or drag.
  • Bins should not be placed on top of loaded red book trucks as the bin may damage the books on the red truck's top shelf.
  • Non-book materials require different packing procedures. Check with Preservation Services.


Packing Bins to Transport Library Books

Arrange sheets of foam on the bottom and sides of the bin.

Arranging sheets of foam on sides and bottom of the bin

Place books in the bin according to their size and weight and according to the number of items. Books should be placed flat or spine down with the weight evenly distributed within the bin. A smaller size bin is available for small shipments. Options for book orientation and cushioning material include:


Full bin needs no supplemental cushioning.

Full bin with spines down


Wadded packing paper in the middle of a row of books distributes the weight on either end.

Wadded paper as packing between books sitting on thier spines


Two rolls of foam, one on each end, keep the weight centered:

Foam rolls on either side of books standing on their spine


Oversize items may be stored flat, largest volume on the bottom, and a small piece of folded foam at either or both ends to prevent shifting.

Oversize items laying flat with folded foam to prevent shifting


Small bins are available for shipping small numbers of books or other items. Place books spine down, parallel to the long sides of the bin.

Small bins are available for a small number of books


For a few, smaller items, place books lying down, with spine facing spine to prevent books from knifing into each other. Pack out voids with packing paper or foam to prevent shifting:

Few or smaller items can be placed lying down with spine facing spine to prevent knifing


Place an absorbent pad ("rain catcher") on top of books with fluffy white side up, and extra margin resting upwards (not tucked down around the books). Store the rain catcher in the bin for reuse. Rain catchers that have holes, odors, or poorly distributed white fleece should be discarded. New rain catchers may be requested from

A full bin with an absorbent pad on top of the books


The lids of bins should close completely, without applying any pressure. Secure lids with plastic zipties (see detail), available from the mail rooms, or with cotton typing tape. This prevents the top of the bin from opening and protects the contents during inclement weather.

A bin should be able to close completely     Closed bins can be secured with zip ties

Transport Tips

Packed bins should remain horizontal at all times; use two hands to lift.

Place containers carefully on the ground or stack; do not drop, throw or drag.

Bins may be stacked prior to moving:

3-high on the ground prior to transfer or on a normal hand truck

4-high on a MagLiner (heavy-duty hand truck used by HUMS)

             5-high on a securely wrapped pallet (HUMS or HD staff only)

Bins should not be placed on top of loaded red book trucks; it damages the books on the top shelf.