Why wearing gloves puts books at risk

Alan Titchmarsh handling the Lyme Missal

It is often thought that gloves must be worn when handling rare and precious objects. But when it comes to books, gloves pose a serious risk.

A surprising hazard

Although we might think it a good idea to wear gloves when handling our most treasured objects, it is generally not good practice where books are concerned.

Even if clean and well-fitting, gloves can interfere with our extraordinarily sophisticated sense of touch. Individual edges of pages that can be felt by the naked fingertip tend to clump together under the fumbling guidance of a glove. 

When examined up close, gloves are not as smooth or gentle as you might think. Cotton gloves are made of tangled fibres that can easily grab onto weak and degraded paper and leather. They easily catch on small tears and they hold onto dust and grit, causing abrasion.

A member of staff at Dyrham Park removes a 17th-century book from the shelf
Member of staff taking a book from a shelf at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire.
A member of staff at Dyrham Park removes a 17th-century book from the shelf

Expert advice

Our advice adheres to British Library and National Archives guidance and reflects how our book and paper conservators handle books:

  • Wash and dry hands thoroughly before handling books, and at frequent intervals thereafter.
  • Handle books without gloves and without hand creams.
  • When washing facilities are far removed from libraries, use disposable alcohol-saturated wipes, as long as they contain no skin lotions,  and then paper towels to thoroughly dry hands.

In short, we should all handle books with care – but not with gloves.

Alan Titchmarsh examining the Lyme Missal, one of the most important printed books in our collections
Alan Titchmarsh handling the Lyme Missal, one of the most important printed books in the collection of the National Trust
Alan Titchmarsh examining the Lyme Missal, one of the most important printed books in our collections