Handling research materials safely is especially crucial. Untouched, most items can remain stable for years—only to become soiled, scratched, smudged, or torn after one careless use or examination. The materials should be kept clean so that, for example, fingers do not track soil from a binding into the text block. Enclosures such as boxes or folders should similarly be dusted and vacuumed to reduce soiling.

When staff or users consult the text of a rare or unique item, they should use white cotton gloves, which help to prevent the transfer of the skin's natural oils onto the vulnerable leaves. Users should also use cotton gloves to handle nonpaper materials, such as microfilm, photographic prints, and negatives, touching only areas away from the images.

Libraries should use educational posters to encourage staff and users to keep their hands clean and to use cotton gloves when necessary. Library and archive staff need to set a good example for readers in handling materials and be willing to alert readers who are not handling materials safely.

Practice safe handling in your library

  • Keep hands clean and dry when handling books and manuscript materials. For better protection, use white cotton gloves to handle special materials, film, negatives, and photographs.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke around library materials.
  • Keep all work surfaces and reading room surfaces neat and clean, and make sure the surfaces are large enough to safely accommodate the library materials being used.
  • Take time when handling special, oversize, or heavy materials and ask for assistance when needed.
  • In the reading room, cover materials not in use to protect them from light damage and ensure that sensitive materials are covered.
  • Transport large, heavy, and oversize materials using carts or trucks. Get extra help when needed.
  • Use good quality folders and do not use staples, paper clips, rubber bands, Post-it™ notes, or pressure-sensitive tape on important library materials.
  • Use graphite pencils when working near library materials.
  • Use cradles to support a rare book when the volume is open.
  • Do not allow oversize materials to hang over the edge of work surfaces.
  • Keep piles of original materials low. File library materials promptly.
  • Do not repair important library materials with household glue, rubber cement, or pressure-sensitive tape.
  • Do not clean library materials with household cleaning products such as glass cleaner.

Particular care must be taken in handling oversize materials—such as maps, posters, rubbings, and architectural drawings—because these are at greater risk of damage. Staff should ensure that oversize materials are properly housed in chemically stable folders inside enclosures or steel flat files and that the materials are transported to readers with care, generally inside a folder.

Oversize materials should be used only on a work surface large enough to accommodate them, and staff should show readers how to handle and turn pieces in a folder. They should caution readers against leaning on a piece or allowing it to overhang the work surface. Since many oversize pieces consist of paper that is brittle and deteriorated, staff may need to assist readers in using fragile material. Similarly, to ensure that users do not damage fragile materials and put leaves out of order, qualified staff should demonstrate the handling of unusual materials such as palm leaf.

During the shelving and cleaning of books at the shelf, any signs of mold, insects, or rodents should be reported immediately to the appropriate staff so that they can address the problem. Routine handling and cleaning of collections provide an opportunity to check for obvious environmental problems, such as mold, moisture, water stains, accumulations of soot, insect bodies and eggs, and small scraps of shredded paper (which may indicate that rodents are making nests behind the shelves).

When books are moved from place to place, appropriate book trucks should be used to reduce the chance of dropping books and breaking the bindings. Similarly, when readers or staff hand-carry a small number of books, it is important that the pile be stable and supported by the body.

When books are opened for reformatting by microfilm, photocopy, or digital imaging, it is important not to split the backbones by carelessly and roughly forcing the text to open directly to the back. In a stab-sewn or Chinese double-leaf book the sewing thread can cut into the text if the book is forced open at too great an angle. If readers have access to photocopying machines, their use of the machines should be monitored to help prevent damage to the structure of books through careless handling. For microfilming, book support cradles can be used to lessen the effects of drastic opening. For photocopying, right-angled copiers can be used so that the text is opened to only a 90-degree angle. For digital imaging, a digital camera can be used in combination with a right-angled brace or a cradle, or through a prism scanner.