Rare Book Cart

I decided to work on this project because it related so closely to me. The library is something I use everyday, and I wanted to be able to have an impact on it. Plus, the problem seemed simple to solve, yet would have such a long-term measurable impact.

Aneesh G, Class of 2022

The Problem

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is a resource for original materials and preserves used throughout Duke University and the world. For over 100 years, scholars have used these preserves to explore significant figures, study ecological change, trace the evolution of texts, understand cultural shifts, and create new art and literature. In order to transport these materials, however, librarians use industrial steel library carts. These carts are rolled over uneven slate ground which creates significant vibrations on the cart. These vibrations can damage materials placed on the cart. The goal of this project was to create an ergonomic cart design that is capable of seamlessly transporting materials; this will extend the longevity of the materials allowing more scholars and students to experience them.

The Process

The team first visited the Rubenstein Library to test out the existing carts for themselves. After noticing issues ranging from vibration to noise, they started determining specific engineering tasks to tackle. The first part of redesigning the cart was to research every possible existing solution. The team found several current solutions for this issue: carbon fiber loop wheels, dampers, and shock absorbers.

Current solutions in mind, the team began their own prototyping phase of this project. There were several criteria outlined for the final prototype to meet. These rigid requirements entailed ease of use, the ability to bear significant load (500-600 pounds), small width, long durability, and low-cost. Of course, it also had to meet the main criteria of providing books and other rare materials with a smooth transit, as to not be destructive to the cart’s contents.

After 10 weeks in the semester, the prototype was completed. A light-weight frame made of steel sat atop a chassis which boasted pneumatic wheels, like tires on a car, which proved to make transit much smoother. A well-placed railing along the side of the cart would work to keep items from falling off the cart, and a layer of acid-free, conservation-quality foam provided additional grip and padding.

The team wants to especially thank the library staff for being so supportive of their project. Aneesh asserted, “the library staff also played a really really helpful role; we used to be at the library at odd hours testing our cart, breaking their current carts apart. They let us do this as part of the prototyping process.” The cart made has found its way to the Rubenstein Library, and the team looks forward to iterating on the idea more in the future.