To Wear Gloves or Not to Wear Gloves

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July 8, 2014 by jillclever

When handling materials in an archives or rare book collection the question of whether to wear white gloves or not continues to be an active debate. Though it is generally accepted that you should wear white gloves for handling photographs, opinions regarding gloves and other types of materials vary widely. It seems that more and more institutions are dropping the white glove requirement for their materials, including the National Archives and the British Library. Reportedly they use gloves when they are on television to prevent complaints from the general public as to why they are not using gloves, but in the real world they do not require the use of gloves.

 The question of whether to wear gloves when handling various materials seems to depend on what type of materials you’re handling and who you are asking. Many (including the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library Special Collections Coordinator Mike Lora) think that leather bound books should be handled without gloves by clean dry hands so that the natural oils in the skin help to keep the leather supple and moist in addition to regular leather treatment for those items not handled on a frequent basis.  Due to loss of tactile sense, fragile pages, yellowed, chipped or acidic paper are also often thought to be better handled by clean dry hands. Because the feeling of a bare hand is superior to that of a gloved hand, with proper instruction of the user, some believe bare hands would seem to provide superior preservation to delicate items, particularly the perimeter of text blocks.  In some cases, bone folders or paper spatulas can be used to turn pages with hand-colored illustrations or delicate artwork such as watercolors or lithographs.  Numerous archival experts agree that large folios of this type should be examined wearing clean white cotton gloves to protect the integrity of original illustrations or artwork within the bound volume and certainly when handling individual sheets from unbound folios.

 There are many webpages/articles which discuss whether to glove or not to glove. The majority appear to take the same stand as the authors of the article below do, that gloves should not be used in an archives setting. This interesting older article discusses the ‘white glove myth’:       

 Whatever side you land on, it seems clear that this debate will continue between archives and archivists for the near future.


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