Innovation from the cradle

I recently visited our Collection Care department over at John Rylands Library and got interested in the Innovation Process behind Project Cradle- using technology we were already using elsewhere to refine a long standing process. I asked Elaine Sheldon, the Conservator behind the project about how the Project came to be.

Project Cradle

What kicked off the Innovation process that led to Project Cradle?

I studied at the Royal College of Art, and worked as a designer prior to working in Conservation. Designing a flat, adhesive free cradle struck me as a great opportunity to use my skills. I put the idea forward at an away day organised by the Collection Care manager (at the time) Caroline Checkley- Scott. Caroline supported the idea which allowed us to progress it. 

The idea was developed in collaboration with my colleague Mark Furness. Mark had received  training  on writing parametrics for the library’s ‘Kasemake’ box making machine. Mark has developed the parametric that we are currently using.


The box making machine used to make the new cradles

What sort of innovation processes did you use in Project Cradle- brainstorming, horizon scanning etc? Did you get any input from outside the Library?

 I applied the design process I always use – I wrote a brief, I did some research which included looking at other cradles and I made some models.  I also created a mini  presentation to explain the idea to colleagues and a set of instructions so that other people can draw book profiles which can be sent to us. This has allowed us to work on a pilot project with the Wellcome Trust creating cradles for one of their current exhibitions.


How much time do you save using the new cradles? Any other major benefits?

A cradle can take a few hours to make by hand, cradles made using the new system take much less time (approximately thirty minutes). The cradles can be laid out together on a sheet of museum board, this keeps material waste to a minimum. 

The cradles pack flat allowing them to be transported Internationally when books go out on loan. No glue is used in the cradles assembly so there is no drying time, cradles can be put together and put straight into the display case with the book.

Are there any difficulties with the new cradles?

Designing a flat cradle was my initial brief. I don’t like angled cradles for a variety of reasons – mainly because books are generally better supported flat. We do have some older display cases at the library (in the Rylands gallery) that require angled cradles/mounts. The mounts that are used in these cases are currently still made by hand.

Did you have to “go back to the drawing board” at any point and if so why?

The design process produced lots of ideas, one of the reasons we decided to use the box making machine was because Marks parametric knowledge.

Other ideas  included using air drying materials and 3d printing. I also wanted to explore the potential of  making a cradle from an uploaded photograph of an open book profile. The direction the  project eventually took was based on the resources and equipment we had in the department.


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