To Glove or not to Glove? Myths of Proper Handling of Special Collections Materials

When you come into work with materials in Special Collections and Archives (SCA), there’s the preconceived myth that to touch the materials you must wear gloves.  That these old books you must not touch with your bare hands at all.

This is WRONG. In most SCA spaces, gloves are not required to touch the majority of the materials.

Why are gloves not recommended? There are several reasons:

  • Hands in gloves lose the tactility of bare hands. It is easier for a cotton glove to catch on a page and tear it, rather than handling it with your bare hands.
  • Gloves can hurt a book more. Specifically, cotton gloves can lift elements from pages, such as pigment or ink. 
  • Gloves get gross! They’re touching old books/materials, and also capturing all the sweat that your hands are producing in the gloves. We don’t want grimy gloves getting the materials dirty.
National Treasure showing us what NOT to do.

The Library of Congress recommends these guidelines for glove use:

“Before handling any collection item, thoroughly wash and dry hands. Contrary to widespread belief, gloves are not necessarily recommended to handle rare or valuable books. Gloves (nitrile or vinyl) are always recommended if there is reason to suspect a health hazard (e.g., mold, arsenic). Aside from those specific situations, it is generally preferable to handle your books with clean hands, washed with soap and thoroughly dried, rather than with gloves.”

When to Wear Gloves

Now there are certain items and collections that do require the use of gloves. The biggest subject of this are photographs, negatives, glass plate negatives, and slides. Any amount of oil/residue on your hands can react with the sensitive chemicals used in the photographic process, thus damaging the object, so gloves are necessary for preservation. And even when handling photos with gloves never touch the emulsion surface of the print, as it is vulnerable to fingerprints, scratches, and marks. Even with gloves on, only pick up photographs from the edges to avoid touching the surface.

A perfect example of showing how to hold a photograph with gloves on

There are also special cases for wearing gloves for other materials, especially materials that are made of glass, metal, or even art objects.

If you come in to view any materials needing gloves in our reading room, SCA will provide them for you. The best step you can take before coming into FSU SCA to handle any materials is to thoroughly wash and dry your hands.

This glove-wearing myth is BUSTED. Be sure to follow along the rest of this week to hear more about SCA Myths!

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