Special Collections materials, due of their value, rarity or uniqueness, need special care when handling in order to preserve them for the future. Items are often fragile due to their age and can vary greatly in scale, format, material and condition. Our collections include rare books, archives, manuscripts, artefacts and prints. Here we look at how to carry, hold and handle these different types of materials in order to prepare you for using our collections in the Heritage Collections Reading Room.
Readers often expect to be asked to wear a pair of white cotton gloves for handling our materials, whereas in fact these are not usually recommended. Wearing gloves can reduce sensitivity, making it harder to judge the condition of the item you’re handling and can increase the risk of damage.
Gloves can also pick up and transfer dirt and debris to other items, which is a particular problem with cotton gloves. We usually advise that clean, dry hands are better than wearing gloves although we would ask you to wear nitrile gloves for the following vulnerable material types:
Bone file. This tool is used to carefully turn pages where we would not want to touch them, for example an illuminated manuscript where the delicate gold leaf could transfer to fingertips.
Snake weights. These are used to restrain the leaves of books to hold them open while reading. They should be placed on the white spaces of the page, never over the text.
Book pillow. These provide adjustable support for rare books. The pillows come in different sizes and can be moulded by hand to accommodate the preservation needs of different books.
Glass weights. These are useful to hold open maps or other rolled documents. The smooth finish with rounded edges will not damage the object on which they are placed.
Take particular care to support any items with wax seals or pendants when turning or unfolding documents. The seals are fragile and must not be knocked or have weight or pressure applied on them. Neither should they be allowed to hang off the edge of a work area.
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