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Case Study: The British Library

Comprehensive Fire Protection for 400 Years Old Documents

Whether it's the Magna Carta, da Vinci's notebooks or the Gutenberg Bible, most of the works stored in the British Library are unique and hundreds of years old. Their destruction would leave a cultural gap that could no longer be filled. After the British Library had already had good experience with a fire protection solution based on active fire prevention with the oxygen reduction system OxyReduct® in the Additional Storage Program, it decided to use this solution again for the Newspaper Storage Building in 2014.

Active Fire Protection, the Second

About the Project

In order to be able to meet the constantly increasing space requirements, the magazine of the Document Storage Centre of the British Library was extended: by the Newspaper Storage Building (NSB), completed in 2014, following the extension by the Additional Storage Program (ASP), opened in 2008. In the NSB the holistic fire protection solution from WAGNER was again used. In addition, optimizations of the operating costs had to be made due to regulations in the United Kingdom concerning operating costs in public buildings.

About the Customer

The British Library was established in London on 1 July 1973 and is responsible for the safekeeping of more than 150 million items and growing in about 400 different languages including maps, manuscripts, newspapers, drawings, music scores and patents.

Risk Analysis

  • High fire load
    The collection is mostly made of paper and would burn rapidly.
  • Chimney effect
    The magazine's high shelves with narrow gaps provide ideal conditions for rapid fire spread.
  • Soot and smoke
    In addition, even small amounts of soot and smoke and low heat can damage or even destroy the documents.
  • Extinguishing agent
    Extinguishing cannot be accomplished by extinguishing water due to the materials and irretrievable exhibits at the British Library.

Protection Goals

Active Fire Prevention Safeguards Historical Works

The solution for the fire protection requirements of the British Library is an OxyReduct® oxygen reduction system for active fire prevention. OxyReduct® V-Line systems were installed in the Newspaper Storage Building magazine. These reduce the oxygen content by introducing nitrogen into the protective area in a controlled manner. The inert gas is extracted from the ambient air using Vacuum Pressure Swing Adsorption (VPSA) technology. In this way, the oxygen content in the protected area is reduced to a defined protection level. This deprives a potential fire of the oxygen it needs at the outset, preventing it from developing or spreading further.

For a comprehensive protection package at the British Library, the OxyReduct® oxygen reduction system was combined with early fire detection using TITANUS PRO·SENS® air sampling smoke detectors. The suction points are suspended above the stacks, where they permanently take samples of the ambient air. Deception alarm-proof and highly sensitive, they detect the finest smoke particles and thus enable countermeasures to be initiated in good time.

Customer Benefits

  • Safe
    VdS-approved and certified fire protection solution; reliable protection of historical works; earliest possible fire detection.
  • Flexible
    Flexible planning scope: fire protection solution can be flexibly adapted to new conditions in the event of expansion.
  • User-friendly
    Permanent accessibility of the protected area by authorized personnel.
  • Economical
    Low operating costs - high energy efficiency in operation.

Further Information

The oxygen reduction system with membrane technology installed in 2008 was replaced ten years later by a new OxyReduct® P-Line system during regular maintenance measures - after calculating the costs that would have been incurred for maintenance, operating costs and general overhaul of the older membrane system.

The building with its floor area of 2,200 m² and a volume of 45,000 m³ was designed in consultation with WAGNER to create optimum conditions for active fire protection. In addition to the fire protection solution, the tightness and the climate system for the protection of the works were also coordinated.

The British Library safely stores more than 150 million works in over 400 different languages, as well as maps, manuscripts, newspapers, art prints, drawings, scores and patents. Examples include da Vinci's notebooks, manuscripts of the Beatles, and the recording of Mandela's speech on the Rivonia trial.

Customer Testimonial

Patrick, Dixon, Head of Construction and Engineering, British Library

OxyReduct® with VPSA-technology not only provides effective protection but also on the basis of lowest capital costs.

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